The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel rounds out a first season with a fabulous bang – figuratively and, eh, literally too. The second half of the show gives us everything we didn’t realize we were missing in the first half, manages to wrap up the first season without wrapping up the series, and satisfies our hopes for our characters while still giving us plenty to root for in the seasons to come.
Before I dive into anything else, I’d like to first discuss the incredible talent Amy Sherman-Palladino has for writing and creating characters that are so incredibly full of depth, well-rounded, and full of sympathetic and relatable characteristics, even when they are incredibly flawed.
Joel is a prime example of this. First, he leaves Midge for his secretary after bombing at a stand up show he stole, then he wants to get back together with Midge, but she turns him down, so he runs back to his secretary. Then he leaves his secretary, and Midge finally considers taking him back into her life. Not only does his embrace his job head-on, working hard to win a promotion that would send out to the west coast a lot but would allow Midge and the kids to afford everything they want and need, but he also decides to try and get back into stand up, because he thinks that’s what Midge would want.
When he discovers, unbeknownst to Midge, that she’s been doing stand up, and not only has she been doing stand up, she’s been doing it about him and her life, he’s extremely upset, as we see when he confronts Susie. But, while he’s upset and doesn’t seem to be in a place where he’d be okay with supporting Midge in her act, he’s still protective of her, and defends her talent. In fact, he surprises us as viewers when he punches out Midge’s heckler – who she handles very well without him, by the way – but it’s a telling moment when we realize that, even though Joel has a lot to work out in order to get to a place where he’s okay with her stand up, he might, in fact, be worth keeping around after all.
That’s just one example of how well-rounded these characters are. Joel is a true follower, lost with Midge to lead him, and constantly questioning what he truly wants and continually taking what he has for granted until he no longer has it. And these aspects of his personality come out in subtle nuances throughout the show that really reel us in and make the sure as incredible as it is. Like all Sherman-Palladino shows, the action of the show doesn’t matter. It’s not about that. It’s entirely about the characters we’re watching, and what happens to them. And, of course, what happens to them happens to be endearing, hilarious, and quirky, all at the same time.
The show is also beautiful to watch. As a period piece, it manages to shine up the late 50’s like some bright, perfectly coiffed, color-coordinated dream of the past. It’s like eye candy for the vintage lover. Anyone who believes in the lie of making America great “again” believes in this version of the 50s. (Though the show has no qualms about highlighting the sexism of the era – more on that in a second.)
Speaking of false depictions of the past, I have one critique that I feel the show could have done a better job about, and that’s the amount of diversity in the show. Sherman-Palladino has never been notable for an incredibly diverse cast, though her shows have also never been questionably racist. They’ve simply been overladen with white actors and actresses. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel doesn’t ignore the black community of New York in the 50s – in one episode, Midge and Lenny get high with a jazz group behind a club, and in another, Midge has a black coworker who gets a modeling job in France. But besides that, there’s hardly any people of color in the show. Walking the streets, people that Midge runs into, Asians, Latinos – mysteriously excluded from the jewish New York that Midge apparently lives in. With as much effort as shows are putting into widening their storytelling possibilities and making their shows more dimensional with more diversity, it’s a bit uncomfortable to see this absolutely great show fall so short on this aspect.
That said, the show does manage to tackle one diversity issue very well: the treatment of women and the expectations of their societal place in the 50s. Left and right Midge has to deal with the judgment and unfair expectations placed on her. She learns to pave her own way without paying too much mind to those casting judgment on her separation with Joel. She accepts the rude remarks and the gaslighting she receives just for being a woman, and for being a woman whose husband left her, and for being a woman whose husband left her trying to do stand up. In fact, it’s likely a very symbolic decision to call the club where Midge gets her start ‘The Gaslight.’
Still, the show could be more intersectional. It would certainly drive home the idea that sexism runs deep in this time, even worse for other women of color more so than Midge. But, that won’t stop me from telling you to watch this show. It’s one of the best currently on TV, and it’s really worth the eight-hour journey.
Season 1, Episodes 5-8 (S01E05-08)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel streamts on Amazon Prime.
Tasha is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles. Originally from Kansas, when she’s not writing about or watching TV, Tasha is searching for the best BBQ place in LA to fill the KC BBQ hole in her stomach.
Keep up with all of Tasha’s reviews here.
Tasha Cerny | Contributor