'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel': TV Review

The show stands out when Brosnahan stands up.
11/29/2017

Rachel Brosnahan shines bright as a young comic in a new Amazon drama from 'Gilmore Girls' creator Amy Sherman-Palladino.

There's a lot to love in Amy Sherman-Palladino's new series for Amazon, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, with the rapid-fire jokes and presence of a magnetic and likeable lead actress being the main similarities to Sherman-Palladino's beloved Gilmore Girls.

But The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, with the wonderful Rachel Brosnahan in the lead, has a different struggle ahead of it. For starters, it's a period piece set in New York in 1958, about an uptown has-it-all Jewish girl who discovers the nascent stand-up comedy scene in the Village as she begins to lose the life she crafted so carefully.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is at once a smudgy love letter to stand-up comedy, female empowerment and New York City itself, with Brosnahan (House of Cards, Manhattan) busting out of the frame once again with her buoyant personality, imbibing the character with all the charm that Sherman-Palladino can muster and carrying the show from the first frame.

Viewers will decide if they think all the sides of Miriam "Midge" Maisel's life are marvelous, since the show is operating on two different levels — and the more modern, forward-looking aspects of Miriam's life are, at least early on in the series, much more interesting.

When we first meet Miriam, she's tellingly at a microphone, standing as if on a stage but actually in the center of her own wedding, doing a monologue of sorts on how all her dreams came true — educated at Bryn Mawr and finding the love of her life in husband Joel (Michael Zegen). Brosnahan's magnetic personality pops immediately in that opening scene, setting the hook. You want to follow along with her story, even if it's clear that getting married, having kids and being a nice, mostly well-off Jewish girl who makes her parents proud isn't the aspirational, right-angle, burgeoning feminist comic story that Miriam or the series will become.

Sherman-Palladino (who also directs) and husband Daniel Palladino have created a wider world for Miriam than the one that fuels the better part of the series, and that's understandable. It can't all be about an uptown girl whose life is, well, turned upside down and who finds accidental purpose downtown in the clubs. But Miriam's wider world, which focuses at first on her and Joel's extended family (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle play the parents), can't compete with where Miriam is headed (partly because Joel is kind of a schmuck and all that family stuff seems like padded drama).

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel clearly isn't a rags-to-riches story, nor a typical look at comedy where the broken central figure hides her inner darkness behind humor. Nope, Miriam had it all and is happy — her life goes not so much into free-fall than it does in an intriguing new direction. That counterintuitive look at Miriam is also partly what makes the show so appealing — you could probably make the protagonist into a bleak, cynical barfly or something, but why would you? The upbeat optimism of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a baked-in Sherman-Palladino formula that worked with Gilmore Girls and makes this new series addictive.

Alex Borstein stands out as Susie, the woman who has seen every hack comic there is and believes that this newbie with the rough edges may yet become the female version of Mort Sahl, who Susie says was one of the only good comics she's seen —  or beyond; and we are to assume Miriam, with some in-the-trenches work, can be even better than Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). Wherever that journey takes the series will be the part that shines brightest, though Brosnahan lights up even the work-in-progress family fare as well.

Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Michael Zegen, Tony Shalhoub, Alex Borstein, Marin Hinkle
Created by: Amy Sherman-Palladino, Daniel Palladino
Written and directed by: Amy Sherman-Palladino
Premieres: Wednesday (
Amazon Prime)

comments powered by Disqus