Note: This review originally ran on March 17, 2017, when The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel premiered as part of Amazon’s spring pilot season. Recaps of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s remaining first-season episodes will begin posting Friday, December 1.
From the minute it starts, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is pure Amy Sherman-Palladino. Who else has such an affinity for self-possessed brunette women, the kind that talk a mile a minute and have a secret desire to stir shit? Who else crafts these ladies that are equal parts vanity and unfettered braininess? These gals who can chatter their way into just about anything they want? If Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore girls weren’t so WASP-y, it might be possible to envision one Miriam “Midge” Maisel, who resides in 1958 New York, as their ancestor. Only Midge is an Upper West Side Jewish American Princess, not a member of the Connecticut branch of the Daughters Of the American Revolution. This is all to say that if you buy what Sherman-Palladino is selling, you will eat up Mrs. Maisel.
The pilot begins with Midge’s (Rachel Brosnahan) toast at her own wedding—because that’s just the type of dame she is—and then jumps ahead four years to find her settled into married life with Mr. Maisel (Michael Zegen). He’s pursuing a side career as a comedian, and she is dutifully supporting him, making brisket to get him a better time slot at the Gaslight Cafe. Midge is not, at least initially, a modern woman trapped in a backwards age. In fact, she relishes in the beauty standards to which she must adhere, ensuring she keeps an excellent figure and sneaking out of bed each night and morning to make sure her husband never catches her in cold cream and curlers. She’s comfortable with the life prescribed for her as a wife and mother, and finds joy in bragging to the butcher about how the rabbi is coming over for Yom Kippur break-fast. But it’s also clear that Midge truly understands comedy in a way that her husband doesn’t, and by the end of this episode that’s her predestined path far more than his.
In Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, Sherman-Palladino operated in quasi-fantasy worlds, placing her stories in invented towns filled with bizarre citizens. Mrs. Maisel is more rooted in reality, with the quirk factor taken down a couple of notches. Given how deep Sherman-Palladino well of cultural knowledge is, it should come as no surprise that she’s also got an eye for historical detail. The production design is outstanding—much more convincing than the cartoonish ’60s of Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt. The Gaslight of Mrs. Maisel feels more welcoming than the version of the famous venue featured in, say, Inside Llewyn Davis, but it doesn’t register as inauthentic. It remains to be seen how skillful the show negotiates what can occasionally be an Achilles’ heel for period pieces: incorporating and real life figures. Some of the clunkiest moments in the pilot come when Midge interacts with Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby).
As Midge, Brosnahan has the difficult task of nailing that lightning-quick Sherman-Palladino dialogue, all while affecting a New York accent that sounds distinctly vintage. She’s effervescent in the part, and convincingly nails the drunken impromptu stand-up moment that signals her character’s true talent. Given that the first hour is so focused on Midge’s big revelation, few others have much to do. Tony Shalhoub, so good in so much, is a bit one note as her father, but that’s because that’s all the script gives him to play. Most promising, aside from Brosnahan, is Alex Borstein as the no-bullshit Gaslight bartender who decides to take Midge under her wing. Their odd-couple rapport is what I’m most looking forward to should the streaming service give it the go ahead.
For the most part, this is a series that’s as confident as its heroine—and what a heroine she is. Midge is already layered, conflicted, hilarious, and charming. She’s captivating and Amazon would do well to recognize that and let her flourish.
- I have a quibble with the Yom Kippur plot: If Miriam and her family were really so excited about having the rabbi over for break-fast, they would be at Kol Nidre services the night before. The Maisels are not so religious that they’re kosher, but they obviously care about their status at temple. They would not miss a service.
- Additionally, wouldn’t Miriam be shopping at a kosher butcher for the rabbi? A woman ordered pork chops in the store! A shonda!
- Borstein was originally cast as Sookie in Gilmore Girls, but this could be an equally fantastic role.
- Bunhead watch: Bailey De Young née Buntain, shows up as one of Midge’s friends.
- You will never see me complain about a Gilbert Gottfried cameo.