Season 2 of Mrs. Maisel: a Marvelous Mess
Last January I sung high praises for the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a smart comedy with likable characters who don’t choke anyone to death with a chain or dissolve a human body in an acid bath. What a nice change of pace! But the second season of Mrs. Maisel, which my wife and I just finished last week, is a mess, full of plot lines that lead nowhere, unnecessary characters, inconsistencies and lazy writing. Is it still better than a lot of what’s on TV? Probably, but the show isn’t striving for mediocrity – that’s merely its outcome.
Mrs. Maisel is without a doubt among the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen, with amazing 1950s costumes and set designs, and glamorous glimpses into record shops, department stores, switchboards, and summer months spent at the Catskills. The acting is also superb, with now two-time Golden Globe winner Rachel Brosnahan as Midge and the incomparable Tony Shalhoub killing it as Midge’s father, Abe.
But then there are the plot lines, and there are so many debacles in this department that it’s hard to know where to begin. I’ll address just a few.
Great pains were made to show that Midge’s first impromptu comedy show at the Gaslight was recorded and bootlegged at a local record store, where it was appreciated by a few comic nerds, pressed into vinyl and placed on sale. In one episode, Midge’s manager Susie discovers the record at the shop and chases the store clerks onto the street. Where does this intriguing plot line lead? Absolutely nowhere. No money made. No lawsuit filed. No discovery from a club promoter or record label. Might this plot line come back in Season 3? I wouldn’t be a bit surprised, but by that time it’ll be a complete non sequitur.
Susie begins the season receiving death threats, resorting to sleeping at the Gaslight and switching apartments with an Italian-immigrant family. Where does all this lead? Nowhere. It just…stops, and Susie once again safely roams the streets of New York and is back at her apartment before the season’s end.
The first two episodes of Season 2 have Midge’s mother Rose living in Paris, having escaped an unfulfilling life and inattentive husband, and Abe and Midge travel across the Atlantic to retrieve her. Where does this transcontinental diversion lead? Well, nowhere…unless you include Rose’s brief foray into art studies as integral to the show. Her husband doesn’t change, Rose goes back to the life she’d led before, and Midge once again displays her twisted priorities by traveling to Paris at a moment’s notice without a second thought about her children, which leads me to my next point.
As the show is written, Midge’s two children are grave inconveniences, and one wonders if show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino is regretting introducing them into the script in Season 1. The current show would be better without them, because it’s hard to root for Midge when she’s up for The Most Neglectful Mother of the Year Award. Yes I know, parents may not have doted on their children in 1958 the way they do today, but aside from reading a book to her son in one episode, Midge interacts with her children not one iota. And don’t get me wrong – Joel is just as bad in his role as a father as Midge is as a mother. The Maisel children are equal opportunity victims. Mrs. Maisel would be a much better show if Midge was trying to figure out how to follow her dream while being a good mother. Too bad that’s not part of the package.
Then there are the amazing number of expendable characters who keep mucking up the story. We meet Susie’s dysfunctional family, a device used to garner a car for Midge and Susie’s tour, but it would have been just as well to learn that Susie came upon a car by some bit of serendipity. We get a detour to the art world of New York, of which Midge’s new boyfriend Benjamin is well-versed, and spend half an episode (or did it just feel like half an episode?) on a self-destructive artist Declan Howell, who’s apparently in the script to help Midge decide what she wants out of life. But the culminating scene – where Midge gets to see the artist’s previously hidden magnum opus – takes place as Benjamin goes out for coffee, so the reveal doesn’t lead to any growth between Midge and Benjamin, which I think would have been a more important development. We watch Midge’s husband Joel take out a bank loan with his pestering parents, we hear his self-loathing rants to his buddy while they whack at baseballs (which they then retrieve without the aid of their baskets), we learn about Midge’s brother’s employment at the CIA, and on and on. What we don’t see much of is Midge perfecting her craft, learning the hard knocks of comedy, and gradually breaking into the business while keeping her personal life together. That would be a great show!
And then there are Mrs. Maisel’s vulgarities, which make no sense. Susie is supposed to be the tough one with the foul mouth, and I am all in with her character’s obscenities. But Midge grew up in upper-class society, attended Bryn Mawr, married a guy and gave birth to two children; I don’t believe for a second that house-wife Midge Maisel is spewing out F-bombs left and right in 1959. And then the writers have Midge doing an impromptu performance at her friend’s wedding reception, a scene that’s so cringe-worthy it lacks believability, which is just another way of saying it’s lazy writing, something I also commented on in my post on Season 1. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of the F-word, and I can tolerate the show’s use of some of today’s idioms (“It is what it is,” for example), but the words have to match the characters. Otherwise, they’re just a distraction. If you’re interested in reading about the plethora of anachronisms in Mrs. Maisel check out this blog.
Mrs. Maisel works so hard to visually represent the late 1950s and I find it odd that the writers don’t work just as hard on plot points and verbiage. Season 2 gets a thumbs down from me, and if Season 3 doesn’t redeem itself I’m giving up, though admittedly, 50 year-old middle-class white guys may not be the advertiser’s most coveted demographic!
Next for me on TV - checking out The Good Place and The Kominsky Method.