Review: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, season 1

Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is an Amazon Video exclusive. The first season of this comedy set in 1950s Manhattan is now streaming. It’s the story of the birth of a comedian. There are some season 1 spoilers ahead.

Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) thought her life was about being a wife and mother and supporting her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) in his efforts to be funny. That wasn’t working very well. Then Joel came up with the idea that he needed to leave Midge for his secretary Penny Pann (Holly Curran).

Rachel Brosnahan in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Give Midge a microphone and look out. It’s gonna be funny

Midge got drunk and wandered into the comedy club where Joel flopped. She grabbed the mike and started talking. We realize that Midge is the funny one. She gets arrested for exposing her breasts that night. While at the jail she posts bail for famous 50s comedian Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). Midge didn’t know Lenny Bruce was a famous comedian. That good deed turned into a friendship. When you’re a funny lady trying to figure out if you can succeed as a comic, being friends with Lenny Bruce is a good thing.

Joel moves out. Joel’s father Moishe (Kevin Pollak) kicks Midge and her 2 kids out of the apartment. She moves back in with her parents, played fabulously by Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub.

Rachel Brosnahan, Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub play Midge’s parents.

Midge’s mama wants nothing more than for Joel to come back and for things to go back to normal. The relationship between Midge and her parents, and between her parents, is a big part of the comedy in this series. These three are impeccable at playing it.

Joel takes about 3 seconds to decide that life with Penny Pann isn’t as great as he thought and announces to Midge that he’s going to give it another try. Her reaction is, “You left.” She has a job and she’s working on her own comedy act. He can stay gone.

Alex Borstein in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Alex Borstein is fantastic as Susie, Midge’s new manager

Susie (Alex Borstein) runs the comedy club where the fits and starts (and two arrests) of Midge’s fledgling career take place. Susie wants to be Midge’s manager. She’s never managed talent before, but she knows Midge has it. Susie fakes it till she makes it as Midge tries out joke after joke in her club.

Midge develops what Susie calls a solid 10. Ten minutes of proven jokes. Susie shops Midge around to other venues promising them that solid 10. The thing is, Midge can’t be depended on to do THAT 10. She breaks out into spontaneous new stuff when she shouldn’t. Midge has never seen stand up comedians. She doesn’t know any comedy acts or the names of famous stand up artists like Nichols and May or Redd Foxx. She doesn’t understand how stand up works. She’s funny, but she has no sense of how to be a comedian. She’s undisciplined.

Susie takes her to see the famous comic Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch). She’s very funny. She’s fat and folksy and down-homey. Sophie Lennon invites Midge over. Midge discovers Sophie’s not fat, not folksy and pretentious as hell. That night she goes to Susie’s club. When she should have delivered her solid 10, she delivers a hilarious rant about what a phony Sophie Lennon is. She doesn’t understand what a persona or character is.

This off script outburst about another comic gets her blackballed by everyone in Manhattan. Luckily she wasn’t using her own name.

Michael Zegen in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Michael Zegen plays Joel

At their son’s 4th birthday party, Midge and Joel hook up again. He’s moved out on Penny and is living at his parents. After a night in bed, both wake up in the morning thinking maybe they’ll get back together.

Joel, who turned out to be a smart and creative businessman while away from Midge, suddenly wants to be a comic again now that he thinks he has her back. He quits his job.

Struggling to get gigs for her blackballed talent, Susie works a deal with Lenny Bruce. He comes to her club. He packs in a full house with a line out the street. Then he introduces Midge by a different name. This time the name she picks is Mrs. Maisel. That’s the end of season 1. When we leave season 1, Midge is finally getting a sense of what it is she needs to learn and do.

Joel was hiding in the back at the club, watching Lenny Bruce introduce Midge and hearing her act. He was both bitter about how funny she was and proud of how funny she was. Their relationship is in limbo at this point, waiting for season 2 to develop further. (Season 2 is already set.)

Also to come in season 2, if I’m predicting right, will be more about Midge’s development into a professional with an act, a bunch of tried and true jokes, and the ability to find paying gigs.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was created, written, and frequently directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino. It was often funny, but also poignantly human and full of the drama of life and relationships.

Rachel Brosnahan is sheer genius in her part. She delivers jokes with perfect timing. Her interactions with her friends, her coworkers, and her family are realistic and easy looking. Brosnahan nails the Jewish princess in Manhattan voice and the swagger of wealth. She does the 50s look with grace. (Kudos to Donna Zakowska, the costume designer. Well done.)

Alex Borstein also deserves praise for making Susie unflinchingly butch at a time when it wasn’t safe to be that. Her ‘fuck off world’ attitude adds a shot of feminism to the story.

And Tony Shalhoub, OMG. Tony Shalhoub is a comic genius. Having him as Midge’s father adds so much to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

I urge you to check out this series on Amazon Video. It will make you laugh. Guaranteed.

7 thoughts on “Review: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, season 1”

  1. I voted for this show during Amazon Prime preview season. I loved the pilot episode and each episode after that one gets better. I agree wholeheartedly with every one of your observations of the show. Is it season two yet?

  2. Ok, not so much. Where this series could have been truthful, it is deceptive. It pretends that the protagonist has the problems of women in the 1950s but she is protected from real stresses, such as money and childcare. She relies on baring her breasts and self-disparagement to click with an audience rather than the real snappy and smart routines of Elaine May. In this way her routines are not far from her husband’s plagerized ones because neither are truthful. We don’t see any self reflection in Mrs. Maisal as were apparent in the real Kenny Bruce or George Carlin.

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