What I’m Watching
Rumour has it we’re in a new ‘golden age’ of television. There are an awful lot of good shows airing right now—not to mention over the last decade or so. Of course, there are an awful lot of really bad shows too. The trick is to find the good and avoid the bad.
Luckily for you I’ve wasted most of my life watching TV. Way too much TV. How much TV is too much? Hundreds of hours a month…and I’ve cut back since the 1980s! So I’m basically an expert on the medium—or as close as a person can get without a Ph.d in Television Studies.
To aid you in your TV viewing I will, periodically, post a review of whatever show with which I am currently obsessed.
Right now, that is The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel. This delightful comedy/drama from Amazon Studios just dropped its third season. I binge-watched the entire thing, all eight episodes, and wished there was more. Already critically acclaimed—it has won awards (10 in 2019 alone!) for its stars, its writing, its costumes, its hairstyling, its cinematography, and its directing—the show just keeps getting better.
Set in the late 1950s it follows Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, a young, smart, and funny Jewish housewife who has everything she has ever wanted—the perfect husband, two kids, and an elegant apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. This ‘idyllic’ life, however, is unexpectedly thrown into chaos and, distraught, a drunken Midge finds herself on stage at a seedy nightclub…where she proves a natural comedienne.
Her spontaneous stand-up act catches the eye of Susie, a bitter club employee who knows talent when she sees it. The two, though initially hostile, gradually form a partnership; Midge as talent and Susie as management. Together their lives change, and ‘Mrs. Maisel’ begins a journey that takes her from her comfortable life on the Upper West Side through the seedy cafes and nightclubs of Greenwich Village as she makes her way through the city’s comedy industry.
What got me interested in the show, even before the first episode aired, was the creative team. Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions, founded by writer/director Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband director/producer Daniel Sherman-Palladino, are behind some great shows. The much-beloved Gilmore Girls (2000-2007 and recently rebooted as a four-part mini-series) was their first hit but they also created the criminally underrated Bunheads (2012-2013). A veteran sitcom writer, Amy got her start working on Roseanne, and is famous for providing her lead actors with witty and rapid-fire dialogue. Able to find humour in surprising places, she consistently delivers believably strong characters—and not just for the stars—even her minor characters leap off the screen.
Basically a ‘period piece’, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel provides surprising insight into 1950s America. The sets and clothing are spectacular—Midge, being from a well-to-do background, seldom wears the same outfit twice—but it is the ‘intangible’ details that surprise the most. (The sheer work a woman went through to be ‘presentable’ is shocking to modern eyes.) There is some nostalgia to the show, and a definite fondness for the era, but it doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the fifties. Prejudice and politics get, mostly, played for laughs. Historical facts and real-life figures make occasional appearances (for instance comedy legend, and free-speech martyr, Lenny Bruce is a recurring character). Luckily for viewers the serious moments are almost always balanced by humour—smart and biting humour, slapstick, and even some silliness.
Be warned, the language gets a little ‘blue’ at times. Comedy clubs being notorious, especially during the fifties, for pushing the envelope of propriety. This is, in fact, a recurring plot point of the show. There is some nudity. Rather than being exploitive though these few scenes are necessary. Strong females are at the core of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel—Midge and Susie get most of the screen-time, though Midge’s parents and in-laws are important (and hilarious) characters.
Though not for everyone, the program will surely resonate with anyone who has ever dreamt of something more. Watching Midge fight to carve out a comedy career, especially when all seems against her, makes for some compelling TV. Her stand-up is hilarious, her triumphs invigorating, and her inevitable failures…humanizing. Give The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a watch. Just be ready to discover a new favourite show.Posted on: December 8, 2019, by : Willow22