Amy Sherman Palladino is a pop culture magpie. In Gilmore Girls, she would collect little references to all those movies and songs that you forgot and laced them throughout Lorelai and Rory’s fast-paced conversations. In her newest adventure, Palladino could have potentially been at a disadvantage. In Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a housewife stumbles into stand-up comedy and struggles to put her life back together. The challenge, however, is that the show is set in the 1950s. A decade with pop culture references that are staler than Cracker Jacks from the 1950s to the 2017 ear. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel overcomes this problem by creating the perfect loophole. The loophole: the show doesn’t rely on references like the Gilmores did. And yet, even though Mrs. Maisel doesn’t rely on pop culture reference, the show tends to remind me of many of my favorite things.
Ladies with Can Do Attitudes
Midge Maisel is spunky. Spunky is a descriptor that is applicable to very few women. For the dull, it’s sarcastic. For the assertive, it’s condescending. For ladies like Mary Tyler Moore and Midge, they are perfectly described with this adjective. Midge talks people into better show times with brisket. She makes the toast at her own wedding. She is even intentionally posed in this iconic position to showcase just how spunky she can be. The show is in cheery contrast with the typical portrayal of “the woman scorned.”
Perfectly Written Memorable Lines
In an odd turn of events, Midge meets Lenny Bruce. Midge sees this as the perfect opportunity to get advice from the comedy legend. She asks him if he would prefer to have any other job in the world. The result is one of those perfect moments, set-up by perfectly crafted writing. Bruce replies:
If there was anything else in the entire world that I could possibly do to earn a living, I would.
I’m talking dry cleaners to the Klan, crippled kid portrait painter, slaughterhouse attendant.
If someone said to me, “Leonard, you can either eat a guy’s head or do two weeks at the Copa,” I’d say “Pass the ******* salt.” It’s a terrible, terrible job.
It should not exist, like cancer and God.
It’s irreverent, but Lenny proves that he loves stand-up. The moment gives you that flicker that this show is special.
Recently, the fashionable profession on TV to have is to be a stand-up comedian. Shows like Crashing, Lady Dynamite, I’m Dying Up Here and the now defunct Jim Gaffigan Show and the potentially defunct, Louie, all show the seedy life of a comedian.
We get it. Comedy is tough. People bomb.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel comes at the profession from a different angle. Midge sees the challenge of stand-up and is intrigued. She isn’t a stand up because she hates herself. She enjoys having her voice heard and making people laugh. Like the show’s creator, Midge enjoys working and re-working lines to create those perfectly written memorable lines.
Period Piece Delights
There is so much eye candy in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The pink Pyrex that holds the brisket is cheery. Midge’s capes are a thing of beauty. I’m even intrigued by the magical face cream that Midge smothers her skin in at night. As a rule of thumb, period pieces get five extra bonus points in my heart. But, it’s not just the things in the show, it’s what they are doing. The choreographed exercise class that Midge and Imogene (whose name I’m obsessed with!) take is one of the greatest scenes in 2017 as far as I’m concerned. The world needs more people working out with glass Coke bottles. The choreography is unexpected. The married ladies workout so they can “eat cheesecake.” The divorcees workout because they are desperate. The fast-paced aerobics match the fast-paced conversations that fly by.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel isn’t meant to be studied as history. Unlike Mad Men, the show doesn’t set out to be extremely realistic. Midge is a spunky woman who is trying to live her dreams.
That’s all the realism I need.