I had to wait eight months between the pilot episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and the rest of its first season. Eight months! For that alone I've given up on Amazon's pilot season. Aside from that was also the frustration that the pilot was the best episode of the show. Nonetheless, I got to every episode as quickly as I could and definitely enjoyed the ride.
Like my experience watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Amy Sherman Palladino's Mrs. Maisel provided me with some very nice representation: A twentysomething brown-haired Jewish princess whose over-the-top personality leads to both opportunities and pitfalls. Midge (Rachel Brosnahan), or Miriam, as she's known in her Jewish community, is a 1950's housewife with a beautiful apartment, two kids and a husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), who has ambitions in standup comedy that she can respect. This all comes crashing down when she finds out Joel's been cheating with "the Methodist version of [her]", the apartment is in his father's name, and he's been stealing all of his standup jokes. From there, the plot takes us down a familiar path of redemption in which Midge picks herself up by the bootstraps and discovers her own talent for comedy with the help of club manager Susie (Alex Borstein).
My complaints regarding the show as a whole are generally my complaints with any Sherman-Palladino production: The stakes are too low and the secondary characters are caricatures. The show hinges on Brosnahan's performance, though, and she is a continuous wonder. I am certainly guilty of developing a nascent nasal New York accent while binging Mrs. Maisel. And in examining Midge as a character, I was struck by a thought: While the feminist messages of the storylines are anachronistic to the time and therefore dampened, Midge rebuilding her life and coming to terms with her future is not. What we witness over the course of the show is Midge realizing that her values do not serve her and that they need to change.
Before Joel leaves her at the beginning of the show, Midge has no reason to believe that the world and values she inherited from her parents should lead her astray. Her life is a carbon copy of her mother's: Two kids, Upper West Side apartment, good standing in the community, an obsession with appearances and a full-fledged eating disorder. After Joel leaves her, however, rather than a simple rebellion, Midge launches into a full value overhaul. Having a perfect life was suppose to be a guarantee; so why didn't it work?
The first indication that Midge is changing her value set is evident when Joel tries to come home. He shows up at her building with his tail between his legs, all apologies and prostration - though it's clear he believes she's going to take him back once he's done debasing himself. But Midge doesn't want him back. Knowing it's what her parents want, knowing that her social standing is at stake, she firmly closes that door with no regrets. Midge could have gotten back together with Joel and gone back to her old life. But whether it's because of her pride or because Joel genuinely hurt her and she can't forgive him for that, Midge decides to turn her back on that path and forge a new one.
Next come the children: During one of her standup sets, Midge asks a woman in the audience if having breasts means she's supposed to want kids. It's in perfect contrast to what she believed and up until this point we were under the impression that she didn't mind her children - as long as she could leave them with the housekeeper or her parents whenever convenient. As soon as she realizes that having kids isn't something every woman should do, she stops feeling guilty about leaving them at night. She isn't allowing her children to be neglected, but she is removing from herself the burden of caring for them every minute of the day.
The next value to go is the belief that women shouldn't work. Once Midge finds out that the apartment doesn't belong to her or Joel, she has to move in with her parents. Anyone who's moved back in after being gone can relate to her resulting tension and stress, and it spurs her on to realize that it's not a sustainable situation. Thus, Midge becomes a makeup counter girl in a department store, putting more of her talents to use. While her parents wring their hands and guilt Joel about it, Midge finds herself enjoying the work (once she finds appropriate footwear) and taking advantage of the new social life it offers.
Midge also goes through something of an identity crisis, which is how we get the whole shtick with her Amanda Gleason pseudonym. If she can't be herself downtown, she might as well be some gentile off the block. This, too, is upended though. After the set in which she commits career suicide by disparaging a famous female comic, Midge comes to understand that her identity must be linked to her past and present. While she may no longer be Joel's wife or have that lifestyle anymore, she reclaims the identity of "Mrs. Maisel" as the trash-talking, profanity-laden standup comic she was born to be. Her decision to use her real name also shows how she's developed enough to not be ashamed of that identity. Rather than hide her downtown dealings from her uptown community, she's learned to integrate the two without shame.
For all its flaws, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a fun show. Not to mention I'm a sucker for a loudmouth and a woman going through an emotional meltdown with pristine lipstick. While Midge's position as a standup comic isn't necessarily groundbreaking television in 2017, I find the transformation she goes through as a product of her family and culture extremely relevant. Not to mention entertaining.
Thoughts with Alisa
Current writing on pop culture. Also known as my post-graduate school writing motivation.