Nearly a year ago, Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, in partnership with Amazon Prime, dropped the full first season of her latest series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Following the disappointment that the revival of her flagship show caused her die-hard fans the previous year, and the ambivalence evoked by her ABC Family dramedy Bunheads a few years prior to that, many went into Maisel fearing that their once writing icon had lost her golden touch a long time ago. A sweeping eight Emmy wins later, those same people know they have no such thing to fear.
I, having been one of those people, wanted to go back and re-watch the first season before its highly-anticipated sequel season drops sometime this fall, so I could explain why it deserves every award it got, and what I hope to see coming up.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
What It’s About
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel follows Miriam “Midge” Maisel, an upper-class Jewish housewife in 1958 New York City whose life falls apart when her husband, Joel, leaves her for his secretary one night after a botched stand-up comedy act. In his own words, “I just don’t want this life. This whole Upper West Side, classic six, best seats in Temple…” Out of the ashes, Midge discovers her own talent for stand-up and, over the course of the season with the help of her manager Susie, rises to be a true force to be reckoned with on stage regardless of what curveball life throws at her next.
MVPs of the Cast and What I Want To See From Them
Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel
Rachel Brosnahan is flawless as Midge. Whether she’s tackling drama or comedy Brosnahan’s every word, beat, and gesture are perfect and precise, to the point that the smallest movement seems significant. I’m thinking specifically of the choices she makes as she goes up on-stage for her act in the final minutes of episode seven, “Put That on Your Plate!” As she approaches the microphone waiting for the introductory applause to die down so she can begin, her stance, demure waving away of praise, and revealingly wicked grin echoes the fantasy she had a few episodes prior in The Copa’s kitchen. Midge has mastered her “tight ten.” She’s being scouted by a respected comedy manager. Her fantasy is seemingly one step closer to becoming reality. In that moment, in her head, she’s untouchable.
Michael Zegen as Joel Maisel
Joel Maisel, on the other hand, is a thankless role to take on. In the first episode alone we see Joel steal an act from Bob Newhart, reveal an affair with his secretary, and leave with Midge’s suitcase. Yet with Michael Zegen, Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband Dan are able to succeed where they didn’t in Gilmore Girls: making the cheater sympathetic to the audience. We not only see the progression of Joel realizing what a life-ruining mistake he’s made, but also the slow reveal of how little he truly knew his wife as an unfortunate consequence of the time period they live in.
For example, in the first episode, we see that even after four years of marriage Midge still sneaks out of bed to put curlers in and take off her makeup, then sneaks out again in the morning before he wakes to put it all back. It’s not until the season finale, after they’ve spent the night together in an unexpected reunion, that Joel sees her face without makeup. It’s a symbolic foreshadowing for later in the episode, when he sees her on-stage for the first time. Finally, Joel has seen his wife’s true face, both literally and figuratively.
During the pillow talk of their reunion, Joel stumbles to explain both to Midge and to himself why he left, “You just have to understand you are a lot, Midge…You meet a girl. Maybe she’s pretty, maybe she’s smart, maybe she’s funny. Maybe your parents like her. Maybe you get really lucky, and she’s one or two of those things. I got ’em all. That’s a lot.” In her recap for the AVClub, Arielle Bernstein wrote that it’s “hard to tell whether [these lines are] a compliment or an acknowledgement of terror.” I argue that it’s both, just as Joel’s later tears as he sobs, “She’s good! She’s fucking good!” are a result of both pride and heartache.
It’s the ambiguity of these competing emotions within him as written, as well as Zegen’s ability to portray them that makes Joel an effective, likable character in an otherwise doomed premise.
What I Want to See From Joel
In the second season, I hope we get to see when Joel’s affair with his secretary began. Specifically, I want to know what the straw to break the camel’s back was that drove Joel to find someone that would allow him to be the superior one in the relationship, as was expected of marriages in the ‘50s. What accomplishment or quip did Midge make that forced Joel to admit, at least subconsciously, that he would never measure up to her?
Alex Borstein as Susie Meyerson
Alex Borstein’s Susie Meyerson, while undoubtedly a part custom-made for Borstein’s talents, is the one character left trailing behind the rest of the cast’s development by season’s end. We are still left with little idea of what has made Susie who she is, having been too preoccupied with using her to prop up Midge than to give her her own space to breathe. This was perhaps an unfortunate necessity of time restraints-it’s not called the Marvelous Mrs. Meyerson after all- but I hope this changes in season 2.
What I’m Excited (And Not Excited) to See From Susie
What I’m Not Excited To See
Personally, I’m not concerned about learning of her sexuality. While, of course, the representation of a butch lesbian would be a wonderful, important, and welcome addition to the television landscape, I worry about the Palladinos’ handling of it. The only reference we have to previous LGBTQ characters of theirs is Michel Gerard, who was revealed to be married to a man in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, but whose sexuality was never made explicit. Based on this example, while you can trust the Palladinos not to make a character’s sexuality the whole sum of who they are, you may not be able to trust them with handling LGBTQ characters with the utmost awareness of LGBTQ fans’ desires in regards to representation. They aren’t on social media, nor do they care to be. Remember that.
What I Am Excited To See
What I am looking forward to is learning more about Susie’s backstory. There were numerous times throughout the season where I would wonder if Susie had at one point tried stand-up herself but had ultimately failed, for whatever reason. We’ve been led to believe that this is Susie’s first time managing a comic, that up to this point she’s just been working at The Gaslight as a talent booker, but yet she knows quite a lot about the industry outside the Gaslight doors.
This hunch was solidified in episode six, “Mrs. X at the Gaslight,” when Susie crashes the office of another comic’s agent who she believes has been sniffing around Midge. The way she describes what she predicts would happen to Midge if she were to accept the agent’s offer- “We both know what a place like this does with someone like Midge: a girl comic, good-looking, just starting out, can’t sing. You meet ’em at the deli, like you did, all casual-like. And then you schedule a fancy lunch, there’s always lunch, talk to ’em about their hopes and their dreams, you promise them everything, you deliver nothing, and then you dump ’em if lightning doesn’t strike within the first five minutes.”-came off to me as speaking from personal experience.
Tony Shalhoub as Abe Weissman
If there was one actor in the main cast that stole the scene every time he was on screen, though, it was Tony Shalhoub as Midge’s father, Abe Weissman. His character isn’t there to be analyzed. What you see is what you get from Abe Weissman, and what you see is a warm, loving, unintentionally funny, concerned Jewish father who is all too aware of the rules for women in the time period in which they live. He doesn’t appear to enforce them to Midge necessarily-he did raise an unconventional daughter after all-but he does feel compelled to remind her of them for her own benefit. Tony Shalhoub is so magnetic and charming in the role that even just the inevitable confrontation over his newly acquired knowledge of Midge’s recent arrests is something to look forward to in season two.
Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce
Lastly, I want to shout out the MVP of the recurring cast, an actor and character I think we should all be paying close attention to: Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce. It’s an absolute shame that Kirby isn’t main cast because I think he has the potential to fill the Luke Danes/Jess Mariano role in Midge’s life. (Can you tell who I ship in Gilmore Girls?) Just like Luke and Jess did for the lady in their respective lives, Lenny represents the world that Midge wants to fall into. He encourages her and pulls through for her when she needs it the most.
When I stopped to think about it, it was kind of insane that we believed that Lenny Bruce would do the favor for Midge that he does in the finale. He essentially ties his comedic reputation to hers when he’s never seen her act. But we do believe it based solely on the power of their chemistry. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, didn’t they establish Lenny Bruce as married in the first episode? Yes, they did. However, they divorced in 1959. Yes, I looked it up.
In short, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a hidden gem of television. In an industry that worships dark and gritty for dark and gritty’s sake, it’s refreshing to have a show that’s bright in every sense of the word-in color, in tone, in intelligence. Even the most unpleasant episode of the season to watch, episode five’s “Doink,” feels necessary and earned. If you know someone who misses the feeling Gilmore Girls once gave them but they wish that it had been more tightly written, or just that Lorelai and Sookie had said “fuck” once in a while, then tell them The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the perfect next binge before season two drops this Fall.