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A fresh take on stand-up with “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”

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After a successful run at the Golden Globes, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has cemented itself not only as Amazon Studios’ new standout show, but one of the most endearing and well-written comedies of the year.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, follows a well-to-do Jewish housewife Midge Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, as she deals with the ending of her marriage through the exploration of the New York comedy club scene in the late 1950s. The show won two awards at the Golden Globes on Jan. 7, including Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress in a Musical and Comedy won by Brosnahan. There are remnants of what made stand-up remarkable in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” like a cameo from comedy legend Lenny Bruce, played by Luke Kirby. But what “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” does exceptionally well is epitomize the value and reality of risk-taking in the world of stand-up comedy at that time.

Rachel Brosnahan stars in this award-winning comedy set in the 1950s.
(Courtesy of IMDB)

When comedy clubs first came into fruition in New York and Los Angeles in the 1950s, they were heavily policed and censored. Comics who pushed buttons and spewed profanities like Lenny Bruce and Mae West were arrested for doing controversial stand-up in a more socially conservative time. This happens to Midge early in her comedy career, but just like Lenny Bruce, she is fueled by the thrill of the chase.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” could have easily been a show about Lenny Bruce or any other male comedian who paved the way during the comedy-club era. But the collection of quirks that is Midge Maisel, as well as the stellar performance from Brosnahan, is what keeps viewers interested. Not only is there a desire to see her succeed in the comedy world, but there is a genuine connection to her relationships with her husband and her family.

While Midge’s challenging relationship with her husband Joel, played by Michael Zegen, is the primary focus in the first few episodes, it becomes secondary to the relationships she makes in the comedy world. The most remarkable and touching relationship is that with her manager Susie Meyerson, played by Alex Borstein, who acts as a much-needed provider of tough love in the harsh world of stand-up comedy. Their professional relationship is fueled by a once in a lifetime opportunity – the potential stardom of Midge Maisel. As the season progresses, their friendship and partnership blossoms into something wholly unique and difficult to find in modern television.

Midge’s family and faith play large roles in her story. Living a few floors down from her parents, they have an unconventionally intimate relationship. Rose, her mother played by Marin Hinkle, is nosy and overprotective, while her father Abe, played by Tony Shalhoub, is aloof and anxious. They find themselves trying to “keep up with the Joneses” as their perfect Upper West Side Jewish family image gets tainted with the unraveling of Midge and Joel’s marriage – but their desperation for perfection always comes from a place of love, even if it’s not seen that way on the surface. They embody a chaotic family structure that is not often projected into mainstream media, and it’s nothing if not refreshing.

Midge Maisel is a odyssey of intricacies – equal parts brash and charm. At first glance, she is an affluent housewife who’s never had to worry about anything in her life, but by finding a new life in comedy, she evolves in a truly remarkable way. She isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and question those who doubt her abilities or try to stand in her way: she is strong as well as sensitive, profane as well as nurturing, and full to the brim with complexities. In her stand-up, she challenges stereotypes of Jewish women and women in comedy, which is relevant now more than ever in stand-up’s “boy’s club” that so often shuts down the voices of female comics.

In a comedy culture that often questions the integrity of “funny woman,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” puts that outdated notion to rest, all while providing some of the most charming performances and writing that Amazon Studios has produced in a long time.

1 Comment

One Response to “A fresh take on stand-up with “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel””

  1. Jacob Earl on February 3rd, 2018 1:28 am

    What a good review of this show, well written, informative. You wrote clearly all the bits about this show that I love but couldn’t articulate!

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A fresh take on stand-up with “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”