I am currently savouring season 4 of the wonder that is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and if you’re not on the couch with me, loving every beautifully curated moment, here are 3 of the biggest reasons why you should begin back in season 1 with Midge and the gang:
It’s downtown. If you have underwear on, you’re overdressed.
When MMM first crossed my viewing radar, I was meh. I had no particular curiosity about a female comedienne in the 1950s, created by the team that produced The Gilmore Girls, on which I could never get past ep one.
Then I watched this ep one and couldn’t stop.
It begins with the meet cute of Miriam Maisel aka Midge – fast-talking, multitasking, much funnier than her wanna-be comedian husband – and her true soul mate, the Lollipop Guild curmudgeon Susie Myerson. When the unfunny husband Joel leaves a heartbroken Midge, it becomes the story of two ambitious women headbutting the glass ceiling of comedy together.
Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein crush it as eventual and unlikely besties navigating this unfriendly world. I love how they recognize each other as kindred, despite completely opposite life experiences. They’re a matched pair of outliers.
But MMM isn’t just their journey toward the headlining marquee, it’s how Midge’s decision affects everyone around her… as well as how everyone around her is equally unhinged.
All of the recurring characters are vivid and endearing, even if they’re actually super irritating. Abe and Rose, the long-suffering parents, Joel and his whackadoo family Moishe and the said-in-your-face Shirl, the best friends Archie and Imogene, Zelda, the live in help, Lenny Bruce and archrival Sophie Lennon… the list is long and everyone has their own “you could not have called it” arc.
Each actor is so en pointe that many scenes feel like a master class. Tony Shaloub, Kevin Pollack and Jane Lynch are the most recognizable, but you love each one that pops in to support or derail Midge. Particular shoutouts to the suave Luke Kirby who plays Lenny Bruce, a fan and personal favourite, and Mr. Shaloub, who delivers scene-stealing one liners like a sniper. The calibre of work on this show is unparalleled.
And the relationships. Oy! Restrained Abe and Rose versus boisterous Moishe and Shirl. Midge and Imogene’s back and forth as they do an unreal 1950s “exercise class.” Midge and her mother. Midge and her father! Susie with anyone. The permutations are many; the pleasure observing is endless.
Watch MMM and fall in love with any or all of them.
All right everybody. Time’s up. Put your papers on my desk if they contain the right answers. Otherwise, just don’t.
Of course, it’s the scripts that give the actors their direction and huge kudos to Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino for their writers’ room. I had read all about the Gilmore Girls rapid-fire, uber-clever dialogue, and now I’ve experienced it all with MMM. I can’t get enough.
Apparently, Midge is loosely based on Joan Rivers and Susie Myerson on the powerful agent Sue Mengers, who repped all the biggest clients from the 1960s to the 1980s. Sophie Lennon channels Phyllis Diller and her mad housewife routine but makes it her own, with the writers’ help.
Most impressive? They’ve created a wealthy, entitled protagonist and yet you don’t hate her. In a male dominated arena, Midge is a woman who wants what she wants, and she and her scrappy agent go after it. This is feminism 101 clothed in mid-century designer wear and Susie’s newsboy cap. You’d better get out of the way.
And Midge on stage? Hold onto your best white gloves, girls – she tells it like it is, regularly seeded with generous f-bombs.
“It’s midnight on a Tuesday and the highlight of their evening is the possibility of seeing a chick fail. Comedy is fueled by oppression, by the lack of power, by sadness and disappointment, by abandonment and humiliation. Now, who the hell does that describe more than women? Judging by those standards, only women should be funny.”
What man is going to want a woman who owns her own apartment? / He does have a point there. It does make you less feminine.
Remember when Mad Men dropped, and everyone was agog over the aesthetic? Well, MMM is all that and a beef brisket.
I dress in jeans and sneakers like I’m an extra in Stranger Things but even I am enthralled by the human fashion carousel that is Midge. Costume designer Donna Zakowska has done an incredible job putting Midge in either eye-popping colourful and completely co-ordinated outfits or an LBD… a different one every time, thank you very much.
She literally has an outfit for every occasion, and the dress does not fall far from the maternal tree, as Rose is equally magnificent. The hats! The bags! The coats!
In fact, every character is perfectly garbed in this MMM world to make you feel like you’re on the Upper West Side circa 1958 or knee deep in poets and turtlenecks in The Gaslight a la Greenwich Village. Cue synchronized finger snapping.
And those sets!
The research that goes into the interior design gives you a snapshot of entire worlds with authentic period details. You’re immersed, whether you’re in NYC, Vegas, or the backstage of a burlesque show, in a time that no longer exists.
Sets of candy-coloured Pyrex oven to table? Check. Period slot machines? Check. But those places do endure, re/created with loving imagination and skill by 4-time Emmy winner Bill Groom and his team. In any show, the set design is also a character and this one is a continuous technicolour winner.
Honestly, I could go on and on about MMM, but I would love to hear from you: who’s your favourite character? Why? Which is your favourite relationship? Your favourite highlight/ plot point/disappointment? For those of you caught right up, what did you think about Susie’s speech in season 4?? And if you haven’t watched MMM, why not?