The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is the best show you're not watching
This contains spoilers for the first and second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
This series is proof that masterpieces can exist when you combine brilliant writing, powerhouse performances, and bold comedy. The result is Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel, a 1950s version of Lorelai Gilmore who is more relatable, lovable, and everything her predecessor wished she could’ve been – even if she was my favourite growing up (*). Throw in some vulgarity not allowed on network television and I present you with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the Emmy® award-winning series from Amazon Prime.
(*) I once asked my dad what he would do if I got pregnant at 16 because I truly wanted to become Lorelai Gilmore – he was not impressed.
One thing not to be overlooked is this season’s astounding cinematography. There are exquisite shots deserving of standing ovations and accolades, including the dance scene at the Catskills (the result of realizing the Annual Stars Hollow 24-hour Dance Marathon could be its own show) and the New York to Paris skyline transition. The eye feast is extraordinarily beautiful while breaking barriers for a comedy series.
As the biggest Gilmore Girls fan to exist (and I have references if you choose to fight me on this) I was quick to pick up on the similar themes and characters explored in Mrs. Maisel. This may seem evident as they’re both created by the brilliant Amy Sherman-Palladino, but unlike Bunheads which failed to leave a mark, these two series captivate audiences (*). Aside from both centering on a fast-talking, witty, independent woman, there are connections between failing relationships, the relationship between a daughter and her parents, bits, and Paris.
(*) I don’t believe it is accurate to use the term “Easter eggs” when referring to the similarities of these two shows. There were no elements specifically hidden in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to reference Gilmore Girls, they’re just coincidental.
It’s not a secret that I despised Christopher Hayden during Gilmore Girls’ run (I even published a piece on Buzzfeed outlining why he was the worst character on the show). Unfortunately for me, Mrs. Maisel has its own Christopher in the form of Joel Maisel. He is another mediocre man weighing down an exceptional woman, and I thought there was a universal agreement that he’s a putz. Excuse my Yiddish.
There’s this unspoken idea that your first love is more powerful than all of the terrible things they’ve done – this can be observed in both shows. Christopher is faulted for being a deadbeat dad who only came around when it was of convenience to him, and then blamed Lorelai’s uncontrollable force of nature on his absence in Rory’s life. Yet, he never put in the energy or tried to persuade her when it came to those parenting choices. Then you have Joel, who cheated on Midge by having an affair with his secretary and then attempted to victimize himself when she refused to take him back. He made it seem as though she owed it to him to try again. Comparing the two, Christopher and Joel are seemingly identical characters who Amy Sherman-Palladino has a blind spot for, despite their shortcomings.
I know what some of you are thinking and I won’t ignore Joel’s second season redemption arc which saw him step up by giving a speech defending the couples decision to separate after they were greeted with judgmental stares at the Catskills and when he came to his wife’s aid because a club owner refused to pay her post performance for arriving late. But, Christopher often flirted with redemption as well before falling short. I expect the same for Joel since the show already seems to be echoing the decision to continuously push Rory’s dad back into the picture even when it was abundantly clear that he and Lorelai were toxic together.
It can even be argued that the handsome Benjamin, played by Zachary Levi, is the Max Medina of this series, making the final minutes of the second season the most frustrating. While the character shares a remarkable chemistry with the leading lady, the storyline was abruptly abandoned, forcing viewers to watch Midge fall back into the arms of Joel. A decision that still has me cursing the Palladino’s. Not that I expected any different after watching them do the same thing to Lorelai time after time. The constant bounce back to male characters that are bad for you is a recurring theme, one I would like to see Amy Sherman-Palladino step away from in her shows.
Both series also focus on strained family relationships. Lorelai continuously dismissed her over-bearing parents because she wanted to succeed on her own volition, and caused a non-reparable rift in the mother-daughter dynamic by running away from home following her teenage pregnancy. Midge, unlike her counterpart, accepted the occasional handout which includes having her mother look after the children or let’s just assume as much (*). Aside from that, there are many secrets between Midge and her parents – the biggest being that she’s a comic and refuses to let them know (before it comes out in the middle of the second season). Rose had already begun sharing her frustration with Midge for not including her in everything going on; this relates back to Lorelai never updating Emily on changes in her personal life which constantly created conflict throughout the series.
(*) One of the growing jokes is the show often ignoring Midge’s son Ethan and daughter Ester throughout the series, treating them as an afterthought. You can only assume they have some sort of unseen childcare since all of the family members have had scenes outside the confinements of their New York apartment at the same time and none of them had the kids. At least this was acknowledged in the second season when they arrive at the Catskills and are catching up with friends, completely forgetting about the baby left in the car. In the very least it stopped my mom from asking, “what about the kids?” Well only until the next scene when you’re once again wondering about their suspicious absence. This isn’t an uncommon practice in television shows, but is odd for one centering on a single-mother.
Nonetheless, I have found both shows completely irresistible and reflective of the different stages of my life.
As a young Jewish woman, Mrs. Maisel is a breath of fresh air. It is incredibly refreshing to have a show that offers positive representation of our people and culture. Throughout television history, Jewish women have been portrayed as loud, vulgar, spoiled, and unattractive: Paris Geller in Gilmore Girls, Monica Geller in Friends, and Rebecca Bunch in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Midge is not only a woman, but a Jew who celebrates her identity. The show acknowledges longtime stereotypes including the Jewish American Princess and the Jewish mother, but alters it by allowing Midge to define herself and step outside of the traditional norms. While the character’s introduction may give off the impression that Midge is a materialistic and frigid house-wife, she quickly removes these generalizations from the narrative.
From the moment Midge hit the Gaslight stage, drunk on kosher wine, she began to forge her own independent destiny while shutting down both sexism and anti-semitic tropes. In a time where anti-semitism is on the rise across the globe, these characters are important – Midge volunteers her Jewness, something that many people choose to hide. Even Gilmore Girls shied away from the evident Jewish influence (the Gilmores had Friday night dinner every week without fail, reflecting a traditional Shabbos). But Mrs. Maisel is unapologetically Jewish and I thank them for it (*).
(*) When Mrs. Maisel returned for Season 2 on Dec. 5, it was the most wonderful Hanukkah present one could receive.
The first season showed viewers that Midge is talented enough to be a star. In the second season her comedic ability is established, but her dedication to the craft is questioned when she chooses to go to the Catskills for two months. While those scenes were beautiful and intelligent (specifically Susie pretending to be an employee and walking around the grounds with a plunger) it cut down on Midge’s momentum and by association, the momentum of the show. As it turns out, that was the point. The final episode ends with Midge deciding to open for a singer on a six month tour, consequences be damned. This is a good thing – it’s time to step out of the show’s Upper West Side comfort zone if it wants to grow. The series needs to take a leap of faith and trust its funny enough to succeed outside of the nest as it charges full speed ahead.