The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel review: Emmy-winning Amazon comedy series masterfully evades sophomore slump
Right in time for Hanukkah, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel returns for a second season and it sparkles in all its Jewish splendour — this time, with more joy and less oy. As engaging as its debut outing, the Amazon series — from Gilmore Girls and Bunheads creator Amy Sherman-Palladino — masterfully evades the dreaded sophomore slump with grander Crayola-coloured settings, refreshingly sharp writing and a relaxed but assured pacing.
Season 1 introduced us to Rachel Brosnahan's Miriam "Midge" Maisel, a 1950s Upper West Side Jewish housewife, whose seemingly perfect life changes dramatically when her husband leaves her for his secretary, Penny Pan, in a dick Don Draper move. Alarmed, abandoned and having swilled down a bottle of kosher wine, she stumbles into an underground cafe and turns all her marital woes into a bold and honest stand-up comedy set.
Her natural talent is noticed by one of the cafe's employees, Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), who seeks to mentor and manage her towards showbiz success. So, Midge balances her dual life as a single mother and an aspiring comic, all the while keeping her new vocation a secret from her pushy parents — father Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) and mother Rose (Marin Hinkle).
The opening episodes of Season 2 see this glittering New York fable whisk Midge and her parents to 1959 Paris. It's been a decade since Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex helped women realise that they have been giving men consent to their own oppression by playing subordinate domestic roles and embracing their status as the Other in society. And it seems the ever-conscientious housewife Rose is having a bit of an existential crisis and is looking to recapture her lost youth — with a dog named Simone and a renewed passion for learning — much to the dismay of her husband.
Midge, on the other hand, is no more looking to reconcile with Joel, who discovers her airing all their dirty laundry in a spirited stand-up set at the end of Season 1. Realising he'll perhaps never be as smart or funny as her, he tries his best to at least be a dependable ex-husband and father in this season's redemption arcs.
Following Penny Pan's outburst, Midge has also been demoted from working the makeup counter to a switchboard operator at the B Altman department store. Even the mechanical and mundane is choreographed to look like dreamy and delightful vignettes — a testament to Sherman-Palladino's remarkable vision.
After her trip to Paris, Midge runs off to Catskills for the summer. So, we do not get to see as much of Midge, the trailblazing comedian, as we would all like in the first five episodes. Moreover, Susie finds it hard to secure bigger gigs for her client in the male-dominated comedy clubs of Manhattan's Midtown.
But, in the new season, Midge does seem more self-assured and displays a better understanding of comic timing. Her material is distinctly Jewish — switching between wry self-deprecation and satire. The F-bombs too slide more easily out of her mouth. She finds a way to channel all her troubles and misery — and even the public fear of 1950s nuclear brinkmanship — into comic whimsy. The snappy and (sometimes) subversive raconteur also turns any public platform she gets into a stand-up set — be it a Paris drag show or a friend's wedding.
Midge's comedy, however, seems most potent when it's timely and thematically relevant. In a scene where the male comics at a night club goad her for being too pretty for comedy, she delivers a stinging put-down for the ages. These jokes are firmly embedded in the plot and characterisation and thus never feel out of place.
From its leading lady to its supporting actors, the cast of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel tackles Sherman-Palladino’s trademark warp-speed dialogue and the endearing neuroses of her characters admirably. Brosnahan and Borstein earned top Emmy acting honours for their performances in Season 1. Expect Shalhoub and Hinkle to get in on the action at next year's awards season.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a ridiculously entertaining exercise in nostalgia, evocative of a bygone age — with all its oddities, customs and mores. It is a kaleidoscopic dream of meticulously choreographed scenes, impeccably tailored costumes and candy-coated settings. It is not only aesthetically gorgeous but it also joyously bubbles with all of Sherman-Palladino's hallmarks. Marrying the free-flowing writing and charm of her earlier shows with the psychological depth and production values of modern prestige dramas, she delivers her most daring and original work.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 2 premieres on 5 December on Amazon Prime Video.
Updated Date: Dec 05, 2018 10:48:34 IST