Love, hope and expectations: Thoughts on the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 2)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Part of the inestimable joy of watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel in all its hyper-exuberant, dazzlingly gorgeous, cleverly quirky glory is simply sitting back and let the vibrantly witty wordplay wash over you like some sort of heavenly linguistic balm.

Every character is brilliantly smart and funny, every word they utter is an expression of perfectly judged and consummately well gathered together syllables, and every slice of dialogue is a thing of articulated beauty, a shimmer of words that makes you wish you inhabited such a rarefied and sublimely delightful world.

We don’t, of course, but is that such a bad thing when you have someone like Miriam “Midge” Maisel who glides through her mostly untroubled life with fashionable joie de vivre and garrulous surety in your life?

She is, particularly in the hands of the brilliantly-talented Rachel Brosnahan, a person who might have all the cards in terms of privilege, position and what Aussies like to call “the gift of the gab” but she is also vulnerable, lost at times, desperately searching for something even as she grabs it by both hands.

That something is her stand-up comedy career, an accidental thing that fell across her path in the first episode of season 1, when newly-minted husband Joel (Michael Zegen) decided he would rather be with his secretary that with his wife, the very epitome of New York Jewish middle class royalty whose parents, Abe and Rose (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle respectively) made sure she had everything she wanted including a dream wedding.

Alas, Joel’s quickly-regretted decision – much of season 2 is taken with Joel kicking himself royally up the arse – couldn’t quickly be undone, partly because of the profound hurt it caused Midge but also because by that act, he projected her life along an entirely different course than either had planned.

If you recall, Joel was the aspiring comic but instead that honour fell unexpectedly to Midge whose spends much of season 2, with the acerbically biting help but undeniable, if gruffly expressly friendship of her manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), trying make her way in a supremely tough business, made all the more obstacle strewn by the fact that she, in the highly-misogynist world of 1959, a woman.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Yep, sexism is alive and well in the world in 1959 (alas still now all these years later) and Miriam has to contend with a lot in season’s 2 adroitly-told second season with one club manager hauling her off stage because she says the word “pregnant” while other comics, all of them male surprise, surprise, mercilessly mock her for being unfunny because how can a woman ever actually be funny?

Well, we know they can and Midge is living proof, her ability to hold an audience unquestioned with stingingly hilarious jokes, witty social observations and a willingness to call a spade a spade in an age where being honest about anything was some kind of great human failing.

The charm of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is that Miriam is not easily cowed by monumental challenges that confront her; stymied at times, yes, and furious at others, most definitely, and if she is put on the back foot, she steps pretty soon after, foot deftly in gloriously matched with outfit heel, and makes it clear she is not to be trifled with.

The great character arc for Miriam, and indeed many of the characters, is dealing with changed expectations.

Her mother, who flies off to Paris to find herself at one point and return to her Bohemian art student days, and her father, who begins to wonder if life as a tenured professor at Colombia and as an innovator as Bell Labs, both must confront the fact that life doesn’t always act as you expect it to and maybe being made uncomfortable is a good thing.

For them this kind upheaval is unique, a novelty of sorts, a shaking of their cosy upper middle tree which doesn’t allow for deviations from the norm, and certainly doesn’t countenance stand-up comedy routines, trips back to a happier, carefree past or a return to the idealism of youth.

And yet in the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel all of these things as people so sure of their place in life discover that perhaps life is more twisty-turny than they could ever have anticipated.

One person who knows how contrary and full of vagaries life can be is Susie who hails from a far more blue collar, broken home type of life and who, unlike Midge, fully expects things to be bad and is eternally surprised when each day isn’t a cataclysmic ride through hell.

Watching the way she and Midge, who become firm friends, all of Susie’s dismissive bravado aside, relate to each other across a gaping social void, is fascinating, the constant comparison of Midge’s mostly sunny assumption that life will always be good (and surprise when it is not) and Susie’s far more grounded and sceptical distrust of, well, everything, is compelling to watch, not simply as a study of two vastly different characters but as an exploration of how different the world depending from where you are viewing it.

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel succeeds not only it is willing to add socially observant substance to its light and fluffily buoyant delivery, but because it understands that even those with the most charmed of people come crashing into the unavoidable reality that life is often unpalatably awful.

We all want it to be better – Midge because it’s exciting to think that life can defy expectation and Susie because she desperately needs it to – and watching just about everyone in the show grapple with what this means for them adds real depth and compelling emotional resonance to a show already rich in stunningly dazzling word play and a sumptuous visual aesthetic.

Above all this, and it’s a rich feast of zingily-delivered positives by any estimation, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is deliciously, extravagantly entertaining.

It is one of those shows that feel like the result of a great deal of fun being had by producers, cast and crew, and while there is no doubt creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and her team work ridiculously hard to keep The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel afloat with its customary mix of grounded humanity and fantastically quirky, almost surreal at times, bonhomie (the episodes where the Maisels and presumably all of New York’s middle class Jewish population is a slice of larger-than-life fun on a grand scale), the effect is of effortless fun with tender heart and a thinking mind.

The truth of the matter is that the most simply pleasurable of things are always fiendishly complex and the result of much behind-the-scenes work, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is no different, delivering searing social critique and rudely confronting life shocks up in a mélange of vibrant humour, smartly-cut and sassily delivered dialogues by actors at the top of their game, and a world where anything might be possible but its realisation is most certainly not.

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