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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Daniel Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s showrunners hint at Midge’s bumpy road ahead

Daniel Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino
Photo: Marion Curtis ( StarPix for Amazon/Getty Images), Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

While season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel gave viewers the splendor of Paris and the Catskills, the Amazon dramedy’s third season stages an MGM musical with each of its first five episodes, offering a gorgeous travelogue of Midge’s fairly ascendant stand-up stardom. On tour with Shy Baldwin, she plays a USO show, visits the clubs and casinos of 1960 Vegas, and lives a postcard-perfect life at the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami. Meanwhile, back in New York, her ex-husband Joel plans to open a club in Chinatown, and her parents have shacked up with her ex-in-laws in Queens.

At least that was the case for the episodes Amazon sent out prior to the premiere—the portion of the season The A.V. Club had seen when we spoke with Mrs. Maisel showrunners (and Gilmore Girls vets) Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino. But as they were quick to point out—between discussing the finer points of re-creating 1960 New York on 2019 locations and staying true in their depiction of the late Lenny Bruce—Midge’s trajectory for the first part of the season isn’t necessarily the one she’s on for the remainder.

The A.V. Club: What are you excited about for Mrs. Maisel season three? 

Amy Sherman-Palladino: Well, I’m excited it’s finally out, and done, and I don’t have to work any more special effects shots. And that people are finally going to see it. We feel like we live in these things for so long, and people still haven’t seen them. I’m really excited that they’re out and somebody besides us is going to know what’s going on.

AVC: What special effects shots?

Daniel Palladino: Just think of all the ATMs, all the satellite dishes, all the walk signs that don’t match. We did some bigger things this year.

ASP: We had some big fantasy shots.

DP: The big dance things were just captured on camera, but there’s things like, in the distance, we often have to change. Buildings were not built yet, and cars and all that stuff. Certainly anyone walking down the street. It’s actually a big visual effects show, just because we’re outside. Mad Men was self-contained, and probably didn’t have to do a lot of special effects, because so much of it was internal. And we’re not so internal. We keep our people busy.

ASP: We don’t have dragons, but there’s a lot of shit to erase. We have a great crew and great special effects people, and they create some amazing things that are spectacularly sensational. They look completely real. We’re very lucky.

AVC: Do you have a historian on staff to tell you, “That building wasn’t here in 1960”? How do you make that all work?

DP: Every department has their outreach to researchers and historians. Luckily, our production designer, Bill Groom, has a whole department that for every set that we say we want. They come up with photographs of the era—say we’re doing The Copacabana or we’re doing a hotel room or we’re doing a typical bar back then. They will try to find in the archives a photograph that matches what we’re trying to describe.

We have our own person that helps us. A lot of times, it’s like, “Did they say this word back then?” “Did they say ‘no way, Jose’?” So we have people that help us with that. And then we also need to know, what were the politics back then? What were racial relations back then? What was the news of the day that they would be mentioning, or obsessed with? We’ve talked a lot about the election coming up—we’re right in the middle of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign in 1960. It’s about to be the end of 1960. So we’re always trying to pay as much attention to that as we need to, and stopping short of boring the audience with useless trivia about the era, which we try to avoid.

AVC: You have all these different, opulent settings this season, like the USO show, Vegas, Miami. You were limited to the Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow set for so many years, and I look at this show and wonder, “Is this what happens when you give the Palladinos a blank check?” Which probably isn’t that close to reality, but that’s what it looked like, like you finally got to play with all the paint in the paintbox, you know? 

ASP: A little bit, yeah. Shooting in New York is a much different game than shooting in L.A. Shooting in L.A. is very contained to stages and lots. There’s no lots here. You’ve got a couple of stages, but most of the time, you’re out. You’re out and about. If you’re really going to do it, it’s going to take a lot of invention. Luckily, we have a brilliant production designer in Bill Groom, and it’s going to take a lot of costumes and extras and things to just make it feel as if it’s a real life site in New York. Yes, it costs money. It definitely costs a chunk of change, but it’s also the reality of [Midge’s] world as it gets bigger, we sort of feel like we’re seeing her world getting bigger. She can’t just keep walking around the same block, over and over again.

AVC: So you say, “I want all new costumes for the USO girls!” and they say, “Okay!” 

ASP: First of all, when we say that, anyone rarely goes, “Okay!” They usually cry, there’s some sobbing and some hand-holding. Smelling salts are very big around our offices. But we’re not just trying to spend money. We’re really trying to create a world for her so that the audience can feel a part of it.

It’s tricky to do that, because New York disappears. You can find a location on a Thursday and by Wednesday, it’s scaffolded and it’s gone. New York is a very shape-shifty place to be. But there were so many wonderful things that we enjoy bringing back and reminding people about. The clubs and night life, some of the way things felt, the exercise classes, those are wonderful pieces of history to dig back up and show people that haven’t thought about it in a long time, or never knew it was there in the first place.

AVC: Getting back to Midge’s world, her ascent seems pretty unidirectional. It’s so fun to watch, it’s so gorgeous to look at, but it’s not like she’s got a lot of conflict going on in her career. Granted, I’m only on episode five.

DP: That’s sort of the key right here.

ASP: Her course is about her learning the ways of the business. It’s not necessarily going to be about the career so much, so much as she goes on tour and as she leaves her children and leaves her family. And the people she leaves behind are finding their own worlds and their own lives and their own direction—that’s a different scheme to come home to. You come home and suddenly your world is very different.

Again, you’re only on episode five, so there’s a lot of career conflict coming up, but this journey is really about a woman whose world is very small and by making this left turn, she goes in a direction where her world becomes very big, and everybody else around her has to shift, whether they like it or not. So a lot of it is about that. A lot of it is about her growing and learning to make these decisions, and be on her own. Her and Susie’s relationship, how they continue to lean on each other. And yet, this is the first time that they’ve been making any money at this, and there’s going to be consequences to that. What happens with that? What does that mean to their relationship? There’s a lot going on.

AVC: The Susie departure is so fun, with Jane Lynch’s Sophie Lennon in a stage play with seasoned thespian Gavin Hawk, played by Cary Elwes. It’s fun to see both of them play such different characters. Was he the first person you thought of for that role? 

DP: He was on an incredibly short list, because we needed someone to come in that had gravitas. We were saying, this is one of the great Broadway actors of the time, so we needed someone like Cary to come in. We wanted him to be British. The list was tiny, and he was absolutely perfect for us.

ASP: He’s also a lovely guy. That always helps.

AVC: Sterling K. Brown also always brings so much to everything he’s in, but everything he did is such a bonus to this season, as Shy’s manager Reggie.

ASP: Yeah, I know. I wish we could have had him more, but he books himself very tightly.

DP: He’s got great stuff in the last three episodes, too. For sure.

AVC: It’s always fun to see your Gilmore Girls favorites come back. Was Liza Weil who you had in mind for the part of Carole?  

ASP: We always want to work with Liza for the rest of our lives.

DP: We’ll work with her on anything.

ASP: She’s a comedic genius.

DP: We came up with the character first. It was kind of based on Carol Kaye, who was the bass player in The Wrecking Crew, the great professional musicians who played on every record in the ’50s and ’60s. Usually we’d come up with a character, and then Liza’s name came to us immediately when we came up with the character. It’s got to be the right part. If you start with the actor and then try to do the role, that’s usually not the best way. It’s usually best to have them made either simultaneous or start with the role and then just say, “Wow, this person’s perfect, this person’s perfect.” That tends to work best for us.

But we’re always thinking. Just like we always think about Alex Borstein. She played a couple different roles in Gilmore Girls—I don’t even know all the roles she did, because she was in heavy makeup. And then when Amy came up with Susie, it was basically written for Alex. Alex didn’t know at the time it was being written for her. She was informed of that when she was called about it. But yeah, we have our favorites, but we always make sure the role is right for them, so they can just come on and shine.

AVC: Is there any other wishlist casting? I’ve heard some Lauren Graham rumors.

ASP: Yeah, we gotta get Lauren on. We certainly have to do right by Lauren. Lauren can’t just walk in, unless you’ve got something really great and juicy for her. But we’re talking. We’re talking with her.

AVC: I also glad to see Luke Kirby return as Lenny Bruce—in episode five, he and Midge have chemistry that is just off the charts. But we know that he’s headed for a heroin overdose in 1966.

ASP: From the minute they met, that was always there. From the minute that she came in, the rising [comic] came into contact with this guy, and everybody knows what’s going to happen to him. The episode of last year, where he was feeling very down, and he had this shot on Steve Allen, that’s all pretty much true. He was in a position where, slowly but surely, he was losing his ability to do clubs, and Steve Allen gave him a chance to come on and sort of prove himself, that he could play nice on television.

So that is something that you can’t ignore. And also, she’s going down the road of a comic. A lot of comics have sad, lonely, unfilled lives. And some of them have great lives. Jerry Seinfeld seems to be doing very well. And it all sort of adds layers to the choices that this woman is making, the places that this woman is going to encounter and that’s the reality of being a comedian. And that’s something that with Lenny or anybody, we would never shy away from.

AVC: Was Lenny Bruce actually in Florida, or was that a literary license that you took?

DP: No, he was actually down there at that point. We definitely try to stay true to Lenny. We’ve never had a Lenny routine be something other than exactly what Lenny Bruce has done. We wouldn’t write a routine for Lenny, so everything you’ve seen him do onstage is actually, pretty much word-for-word, something off of some sort of live recording that we had. Luke Kirby kind of insists on that. He puts in every “uh huh” and utterance and everything. He’s kind of a stickler. We try to stay very true. He’s one of the few historical characters we have on the show. We try to avoid that generally because it can turn into sort of a parlor trick of, “here’s this person!” So we fictionalize, and we use Sophie Lennon, and we use Shy Baldwin, and we use people that are kind of representing real people. But with Lenny, we’re really careful, because there’s a real history. Even down to his address at the time, we try to really make it as accurate as possible.

AVC: Speaking of groups of people from that past—I feel like you guys were definitely throwing shade at the beatniks. They were wanting to be revolutionary, and yet they were really happy to hole up in this fancy apartment and get free cookies from the help. 

ASP: We’re throwing shade at these particular people.

DP: I actually really respect the beatniks and went through that whole phase of reading Jack Kerouac and all that. There’s hypocrisy within any sort of movement like that. Every movement has comedy behind it, and every beatnik is actually a human being. We were just in London and we went see Karl Marx’s grave. If you read Karl Marx’s letters, he’s constantly asking his father-in-law for money. You just kind of see that he’s just a guy who didn’t make a lot of money. He’s constantly asking for loans and all this stuff, which is kind of funny, that the man who was so anti-private property was constantly trying to borrow money from his father-in-law.

We tend to look for that kind of stuff. It’s a loving tribute to the beatnik era, but beatniks were humans too. Allen Ginsberg was a great poet, but he was also pretty funny in his life. Jack Kerouac hated the hippies, and the hippies loved Jack Kerouac and the beatniks, and Jack Kerouac had turned very conservative at the end of his life, and hated the hippie movement, and thought they were just a bunch of dirty radicals.

AVC: So did Jerry Rubin.

DP: Yeah, and Jerry Rubin turned into a motivational speaker or something. So it’s like, even though we respect these movements, we’re comedy writers and we’re always kind of looking for the funny hypocrisy of those kind of things.

ASP: And also, they’re there to serve Abe. They’re there to serve his journey and his wanting to find more meaning in his life, and to be a part of something that he thought he was a part of when he was young and he let go. So it’s not just that we’re talking on the whole hipster movement, it’s that they were there to really give him something that he jumped into so quickly. Because he just thought, “I gotta be a part of something,” so that he can take a step back and sort of evaluate “what is it that I really want to do,” which is what he does in this season.

AVC: Because Midge’s journey has kind of catapulted to her parents, sending them on their own journeys as well.

ASP: Wait ’til [Midge’s toddler daughter] Esther has to get a job. It’s coming up.

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.