The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
I’ve written before about the multitude of “must-see” TV shows recommended to me over the past decade and a half during which the Heinz household has been cable-free. It didn’t matter what show we tried to catch up on: Six Feet Under, Weeds, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Mozart in the Jungle, Newsroom…without fail, my wife and I watched no more than a season and a half and moved onto other endeavors, like attempting to stay awake long enough to say, “Well, at least I made it to 9:30 before hitting the sack.” And maybe our not watching TV is more telling about where we are in our lives than in the actual quality of entertainment, but as I wrote before, so much of television today is so mean-spirited – the meaner the show, the better the critiques, when all I really want is a few compelling characters and a couple of laughs – that I’ve been watching more of Bob’s Burgers than anything else these days (and if you haven’t seen this animated masterpiece, consider it – I laugh out loud as much at this show as I did with The Simpsons in its heyday).
Mozart in the Jungle showed promise. A show about musicians? Sign me up! But as so often happens with TV, the part of the show that I found interesting (music and musicians) took a backseat to other plot points (the conductor's unappealing and completely unbelievable ex-wife). Like a corporation that forgets its core competencies, this show forgot its essence in the span of one season.
NBC’s This Is Us started off with a terrific first episode, spanning decades and tying it all together perfectly with a fantastic plot twist that I never saw coming, but dang, they sure like to pour the saccharine on thick, don’t they? It’s a day-time soap showing in prime time. No thanks.
Alas, my wife and I may have finally found our show. Yes, we’re only three episodes into Amazon's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but it had me from the first scene, when there was finally – FINALLY – a character who I liked from the word go. Rachel Brosnahan’s portrayal of a recently abandoned Jewish housewife and mother of two who unexpectedly finds herself pursuing the life of a stand-up comedienne is so compelling, as a viewer you’re rooting for her immediately. Add actor Luke Kirby playing real-life comedian Lenny Bruce and excellent veteran actors like Kevin Pollak and Tony Shalhoub (whose series Monk also interested me, except my wife didn’t dig it), and you’ve got a show with some serious promise.
Like some of Aaron Sorkin’s material, the dialogue in Mrs. Maisel is sometimes too smart for its own good. In episode 2 the character of Susie Myerson speaks so quickly and eloquently (and incessantly) that it’s hard to keep up (and it’s also not very believable), but at least it isn’t dumb like – for example – The Big Bang Theory. The number of historical references in a short scene in episode 3 are difficult to keep track of if you’re not already up on your history, but I fortunately watched the film Trumbo last year and already knew of Joel and Ethel Rosenberg. And some of the colloquialisms are anachronistic. The third episode has Midge Maisel remarking, “It is what it is.” That’s not just out of place in a 1958 conversation, it’s lazy writing. But perhaps that’s the price you pay for creating a comedy set sixty years ago that’s expected to entertain 21st Century audiences. After all, comedy can be tough to appeal over time, though oddly, the real material from Bob Newhart and Lenny Bruce that's highlighted in the show is as funny and innovated today as when it first debuted.
After watching the first episode, I thought that Mrs. Maisel had no chance of attracting a mainstream audience, but earlier this week both Brosnahan and the series itself won Golden Globes, virtually guaranteeing another season. Unless the writers really go off the rails and have Kevin Pollak and Tony Shalhoub starting a meth lab in an RV, I’ll be watching.