RECOMMENDED: "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL" ON AMAZON VIDEO
"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" perfectly exemplifies the principle that you don't necessarily need to relate SPECIFICALLY to the characters on a TV show, as long as they are well-drawn and three-dimensional. I share a general ethnic background (Judiasm) with the "Maisel" ensemble, and I suppose, culturally, this helps in a sense, but I suspect that NO 2018 Amazon Prime subscribers can relate to all of the details of the lead character's backstory. This is not a show designed for well-heeled 1950s New York housewives whose lives are upturned, only to discover that they have long-dormant gifts for stand-up comedy. That's a troublingly niche audience. Instead, "Maisel" is a delightful and relatable journey for everyone who's struggled with the conflict between how they see themselves, and how the world wants to see them. A slightly bigger group.
I don't mean to oversimplify. What makes "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" work so well is that it takes the time to fully explore its world and the characters who inhabit it, rather than scanning its premise for "meanings" to extract. There's a lot going on, and one of the real charms of the show is that - unlike a lot of ensemble comedies - every character gets to have an inner life, and some quips and a little side story of their own. (Even Luke Kirby's impression of stand-up icon Lenny Bruce feels lived in and real.)
We're introduced to this particular take on New York's Upper West Side in 1958 through Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a Type-A wife and mother who has her entire perfect life all planned out. When husband Joel (Michael Zegen), himself a frustrated wannabe stand-up, walks out on the family, Midge has a bit of a breakdown and finds herself on stage at the Gaslight, drunkenly entertaining the crowd (and getting arrested in the process). She's spotted by cranky loner Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein), who senses that she has a gift, and encourages her to (secretly) pursue a stand-up career on the side, while embracing newly-single motherhood.
The show comes from "Gilmore Girls" showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, so constant, ceaselessly clever, zinger-heavy repartee comes as no surprise. I tend to find "Gilmore Girls" exhausting and unrealistic. No entire small town is filled with Quip Machines like on that show. But for whatever reason - the period urban setting, the performances, I'm not quite sure - I didn't have this problem with "Maisel," which feels like a variation on our world, where everyone's just 15% smarter and more clever than they otherwise would be.
What's definitely clear: None of this would work as well without Brosnahan playing Midge. This is NOT an easy role, if only because all of the other characters are constantly reacting to how charming she is, and what a natural she appears to be on stage. We need to believe, like Susie does, that Midge is a real STAR in the making, or none of the extreme obstacles she faces in getting her shot in hipster Downtown Manhattan bars would be believable. But Brosnahan SELLS it - we believe that these club and party audiences would love her, that Lenny Bruce would love her, that the gals at the department store make-up counter would love her and that her family would love her to look past all of their fears and biases to support her dreams.
That she's backed up by such a winning ensemble, loaded with iconic character actors and comedians, is icing on the cake. Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle are wonderful as Midge's parents, the Weissmans, who could easily be the center for a very different but still winning comedy series. Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron are similarly delightful as Joel's parents, and it's a real testament to the show that none of these characters ever truly becomes a VILLAIN; just nice people who look at the world differently. "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" doesn't really have any villains, because Midge's world wouldn't really have a lot of overt villains. She's fighting to escape a box that, in many ways, she put herself in, and the show is deft enough to understand that many of us are our own worst enemies.
Amazon is streaming "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" for free this weekend, to celebrate the show's victory at the Golden Globe awards. It's worth paying the price for a year of Prime to see this show, so it's absolutely worth your time to check it out for free. I didn't see this in enough time to get it on my Top Shows of 2017 list, but ignore me. This is one of the best shows of 2017.
Title: "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video
Episodes: 8 (1 season)
Running time: 46-61 minutes each