With the 75th Golden Globes having taken place last Sunday, it put the spotlight on a number of last year’s best entertainment. One of those was “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” a show streaming on Amazon. I had barely heard of the show or its lead actress before it took home the globe for “Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy” and “Best Actress – Musical or Comedy” for Rachel Brosnahan. After binging all eight episodes in one day, it now feels like a no-brainer to put this show in the conversation for the best of 2017.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is a period comedy set in 1958 New York City and stars Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish housewife who discovers she has a talent for comedy after stumbling into a club following her husband Joel’s (Michael Zegen) decision to abruptly leave her. Midge soon forms a bond with a club employee named Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), and the two see if Midge has what it takes to make it in stand-up.
Brosnahan is a delight to watch, bringing magnetic charisma that infuses Midge with a refreshing sense of agency and self-confidence in spite of the situation Joel put her in. Borstein bounces off of her beautifully as Susie, a character from the less affluent side of town with street smarts and plenty of wit. The actors’ chemistry creates what I think is the most compelling dynamic on screen as we see their relationship develop through shared french fries, hangover phone-calls and some surprisingly emotional conversations regarding Midge’s home life and potential career. Both of these performers deserve to be in conversation for the Emmys this year. Also rounding out the cast is Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle as Abe and Rose, Midge’s parents who disapprove of Midge and Joel’s separation. Many comedic moments arise as Midge increasingly relies on them for support with her living situation and her kids after Joel leaves, especially when her parents give her a curfew and chores to do. Michael Zegen conveys Joel’s internal conflict with the decisions he’s made, and while it does not make me sympathize much with his character, it does make me understand his perspective on the story.
These strong performances are very much elevated by the show’s whip-smart dialogue and woven-in comedy routines that Midge does. The teleplays, primarily written by Amy Sherman-Palladino (also the show’s creator) or Daniel Palladino, contain everything from snappy one-liners to full on stand-up bits — which Brosnahan in particular sells with her character’s theatrical stage presence. As Midge quickly learns from observing other comedians while taking notes in her tiny pink notebook, it’s one thing to have good material, but another to be able to perform it well, and luckily, the writers and actors nail their jokes with perfect timing.
As strong as the comedic elements in this show are, the writers also know where to land the emotional punches when they need to. When Midge bombs a couple times during her stand-up routines, I felt myself physically cringing as well as sympathizing with her disappointment in herself. I also yelled at my screen a couple times when Midge makes some decisions that we all know are probably going to end badly. The showrunners craft characters that audiences can root for, making the binge-watching experience that much more immersive.
Because this is a period piece, it’s worth mentioning that the costuming is gorgeous. Midge and her family do hail from the Upper West Side of New York, but still, Midge’s outfits are beautiful and look like they were plucked right out of the 1950s. It also sets up an interesting dichotomy between Midge’s world and Alex’s world, making it all the more entertaining to see how these aspects collide as the two navigate New York’s comedy scene.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” presents a hilarious period piece with a central character who is spontaneous, entertaining and heartfelt. Brosnahan is a star, and her performance, combined with a stellar writing team and supporting cast, makes this a show for audiences to keep their eyes on.