I’m kicking off my pop culture calendar with strong, unapologetically smart women of entertainment, and there’s no better way to do it than with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” now streaming on Amazon. It’s the latest show from the bard of quick-witted banter, Amy Sherman-Palladino. (Her name is probably emblazoned in your mind from the end of the Gilmore Girls opening song.)
The pilot opens on a wedding reception, in the late 1950s. Miriam Maisel, who goes by Midge, delivers a toast while dressed in her bridal white. She’s self-assured and has a talent for comedy; and as of moments ago, she’s been happily just-married to her college sweetheart.
We jump to four years and two young children later. It’s the late 1950s, and Midge is preparing to host the grandest Yom Kippur breakfast the Upper West Side. She’s as glowy and confident as a newlywed—until the evening of Yom Kippur, when her husband walks out on her.
From their shadowy bedroom, we see Midge enter wearing an ethereal chiffon nightgown. Her husband, distraught, packs a suitcase.
“That’s my suitcase,” she points out.
“You’re gonna leave me with my suitcase?”
The irony is swift and light-footed. This sets the tone of the show: turmoil alongside light and laughter. After her life falls apart, Midge teams up with scrappy cafe owner, Susie, to embark on a path that strays far from her perfect plan. With Susie as her manager, Midge decides she’s going to make it as a stand-up comedian.
Midge drives the show: She’s a fully realized character, with complex family relationships, moments of painful failure and of triumph. From the beginning, we’re invited into see Midge’s contradictions, the ways that she accepts her identity as a 1950s housewife and simultaneously finds ways to color outside the lines. As she confronts gender norms that threaten to douse her dreams, Midge is able to eke out wry, bawdy humor from the bleakness.
The series unfolds in ways that continues to prove that each of her main characters is emotionally multidimensional. Concerned parents and in-laws play an active role in Midge’s story. Even Joel grows into greater emotional depth, which is surprisingly more satisfying than seeing the fickle husband archetype.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” renders 1950s New York City in every color and swing tune. The fashion will give you vintage store envy for at least three weeks. Pop culture zingers fly as quickly as they did in Gilmore Girls, but this time draw from the 1950s jazz and comedy scene.
Midge Maisel moves through this world. She weaves her way through sidewalks, Upper West Side apartments, smoky downtown comedy clubs. When she’s not standing in a spotlight, she has the forceful walk of a woman aspiring.
You can find “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is streaming on Amazon, and I am elated to recommend it for your (Funny, Feminist) Friday Night In.
Snuggle into a throw blanket, wriggle into your High School Musical 2 pajamas, and talk TV with me: Have you seen “Mrs. Maisel”? What are you watching? Are you also thrilled for Westworld 2018? (Me too, my friend. Me too.)