Film & Television

‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ Season 2

California wildfires. Washington indictments, stock market downturns, tariffs and sanctions and tweeting . . . oh my! This season’s headlines haven’t done much to ensure a happy holiday.

That’s why we should all say a collective — and enthusiastic — “thank you” to Amazon Prime for a truly “marvelous” gift, wrapped up in a big pink taffeta bow with matching hat, purse, and shoes.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is back for a second season. And I’m happy to report that it is just as delightful as its first.

The premise, in case you haven’t had the pleasure yet (and it is most definitely a pleasure), is this: Miriam “Midge” Maisel is an Upper West Side housewife in the late 1950s. Her life appears to be perfect. She has two children, a “classic six” (or it could be a “classic eight”) apartment, and her measurements are exactly what they were when she was majoring in Russian Lit at Bryn Mawr. She and her husband, Joel (whom she adores), even share a hobby. They head down to Greenwich Village every week so Joel can do stand-up comedy at the grungy club Gaslight. One night, he bombs (Midge had persuaded him to try his own material after realizing that he’s been coasting on Bob Newhart’s) and, back at the apartment, he packs a suitcase to run off with his secretary, the younger and ditsier “Penny Pan.” Midge, who has been preparing for Rosh Hashanah (“with the rabbi,” no less) drinks an entire bottle of Manishewitz, takes the subway in her nightgown, and winds up onstage at the Gaslight. Her tipsy and utterly unrehearsed routine grabs the attention of wannabe talent agent Susie, while a few revealing moments grab the attention of the vice squad. Susie bails her out of jail, and an unlikely partnership is formed. Midge’s world has turned upside down, which gives her plenty of material. The trick now is to break through in the world of professional comedy, which was most definitely a “boys’ club.”

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is written, directed, and created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the woman who introduced us all to Stars Hollow and its Gilmore Girls. Her unique talents with brisk dialogue, cultural allusions, and quirky characters are put to even better use here. She also brings a bit of her own history to the show. “This is really my dad’s world, because he was a stand-up,” she recently told Town and Country. “And it was his stories of stand-up and his life touring, in Greenwich Village and the Catskills, that really made me want to do something in this era, and something based on a comic.” Sherman-Palladino works closely with her husband, Dan Palladino. In the new season, she wrote and directed half of the ten episodes, while he wrote four.

Although Midge is a fictional character, the Sherman-Palladinos were inspired by one of the first breakthrough female comics, Joan Rivers. Midge and Joan’s backgrounds (Jewish New Yorkers) and comedic styles are similar. Their routines are built on the everyday absurdities of being a woman in a man’s world. In Mrs. Maisel, Midge finds a champion in Lenny Bruce (they meet in the back of a squad car after both are arrested for public lewdness and indecency). Rivers impressed the real Bruce while she was still struggling. He sent her a note, “You’re right and they’re wrong,” encouraging her to stay the course. Rivers finally made it to The Johnny Carson Show. “God, you’re funny,” he told her on-air. “You’re going to be a star.” After about a decade of struggling, Rivers was an overnight sensation.

As season two of Mrs. Maisel opens, Midge is still struggling. She has been demoted from the makeup counter to the basement switchboard at B. Altman’s, thanks to a hysterical visit from Penny Pan. Her father, Abe Weissman, calls her at work and tells her she has to come home, “It’s an emergency.” It turns out that her mother is in Paris, um, he thinks. Midge coaxes him, “When Mama said she was going to Paris, what exactly did she say? Concentrate. Recreate the moment.” In flashback, we see Midge’s mother, Rose: “I’m going to Paris. I don’t feel like I have a life here anymore. Everything and everyone that I always counted on has let me down. I don’t know what my place is here. You don’t need me. Miriam doesn’t need me. I serve no purpose. I’m unhappy. And I’m tired of being unhappy, so I booked myself a flight for tomorrow night. Zelda’s making lamb for dinner.”

Once Midge convinces Abe that Rose really has moved to Paris, the two fly over to bring her home. In the City of Lights, we get to enjoy Abe’s complete discomfort, as well as Rose’s new bohemian outlook (and dachshund Simone). Midge tries to talk Rose into returning. “Mama, listen to me. You have to get over this. The world is full of disappointments. And sometimes, people let you down. You can’t just run away . . . . You made a commitment to this man. He is your husband. You have to go back to him.”

Rose responds slyly. “Well, look who’s talking.”

Left to her own devices, Midge wanders into a club where she encounters her first transvestites and ends up doing a routine while a Parisian woman simultaneously translates so quickly she could work at the U.N. As in virtually every episode, when Midge gets behind a microphone, all bets are off. Any and everything is open game, and her delivery is priceless.

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  • Leslie in Oregon December 12, 2018 at 3:31 am

    My husband and I are Mrs. Maisel fans. The Paris episodes that started Season 2 were wonderful but also sad. I was disappointed that Mrs. Weissman acquiesced to leaving Simone behind when she and her husband returned to New York City. Was Simone a symbol of all that Mrs. Weissman was giving up when she agreed to leave Paris and return to her old life? This season needs to have more than just 10 episodes!