By Kevin Muller
There are certain roles on television that you can’t imagine any other actor, or actress, playing. Ed O’Neil was hilariously pathetic as Al Bundy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus gave us so many laughs as Elaine, and Bryan Cranston sent chills down our spines as the Walter White. Now, you can add Rachel Brosnahan to the list of actors who have provided unforgettable protagonists that make a great show, like this one, even better. Her Midge Maisel is a true character of female empowerment.
While today’s women are taught that they can be anything they want, including mothers, women of the 1950’s era, where this story takes place, were told that raising children should had been the only concern. The effects of that mindset is the whole basis for Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” which is a fascinating read if you are interested in a deeper look at that subject. The show Mad Men also took a look at women in the workplace and their fight to become as relevant as their male coworkers. Unlike that show, “Maisel” is much lighter in tone, but does contain the same commentary. Miriam “Midge” Maisel, lives an affluent lifestyle in New York City. She has two beautiful children that she cares for on a daily basis. As a mother and a wife, she is dedicated, loving, caring, and has a wicked sense of humor. As with many women from that era, she strives for something better. Her husband, Joel, works for his father’s business while trying to become a standup comic. Midge is extremely supportive of his dream. She even butters up the club owner with personally baked goods. Problem is, he stinks. The plot springs into motion when Midge finds out that he is cheating on her with his secretary, I know, how basic. A wave of insecurity washes over her, to which she helps numb with alcohol. In her drunken state, she stumbles into the same comedy club her husband bombed at, in a night gown and full of rage. The stage becomes her therapy as she spills out every thought in her head. The crowd loves her, she kills with her observational humor, and then ends the set with flashing the audience. That action gets her arrested. Susie Meyerson, an abrasive, but aggressive employee at the comedy club, notices her talent and two team up to try to make Midge into the next big thing.
One of the many things, and there is a lot, that makes this thing amazing, is the journey that we go on with Susie and Midge. There are some times where she kills on stage, and others where you can feel the tension of her failing. The two also experiment with different routines, which sometimes works, but most of the time creates an even more uncomfortable experience for the two. One example is when Midge is told, by an experienced comic, read a stack of index cards full of jokes that are either okay, or just plain awful. These huge missteps create a genuine bond between these characters and the audience. We feel Midge’s highs and lows. While Midge has an aggressive on stage persona, she pretty much is a very feminine and vulnerable character off it. She is as concerned about her family, image, and marriage, as she is with making it. It is one of the conflicts handled beautifully in the show. Each of these individual sections of her life are filled with the characters that are wonderfully written and perfectly performed. The cast around Brosnahan both supports her and shines when the story shifts to them.
Most know Alex Borstein as the voice Lois Griffin, or if you are a bit older, as Ms. Swan, and various other characters, on the old sketch show Mad TV. As with Midge, her Susie is a woman living in a man’s world, but lacks the looks and wealth of her client. This causes her to be to the point with everything in her life. It may seem abrasive to some, but she gets shit done. Borstein gives so much fire to the character. She is hilarious in the role; constantly barking at any man who tries to use his gender to screw her and Midge. As the series progresses, they start to understand one another, fight, and overall make each other better. One scene has Susie berating Midge for not going in 100%. Even though the two are from different worlds, they are working towards a similar goal. The chemistry, if not present, could’ve sank the show, but it is the strongest part of the show.
There is no denying that Midge is pretty much the perfect wife, and understanding that and dealing with regret is something that her husband Joel must face every day. He is a flawed individual, who like Midge’s mother, falls to the pressure of being what others want him to be. It is that mindset which caused him to cheat, but his real self still feels the regret. Outside of the bad life choice, he is a Mensch who loves his family. Michael Zegen plays this heavily layered character well. Both their sets of parents are amazing supporting characters too. Midge’s mother and father, Abe and Rose, played by Tony Shalhoub and Maria Hinkle, are the stereotypical naggy Jewish parents. Abe is ruled by logic and Maria by emotion. He works as a professor at Columbia, while she is a housewife. Their dissolving marriage is one of the arcs of the show, and the result, which is the introduction of season 2, is one of the only weak points, even though it’s not terrible, of the show. Joel’s parents are equally as hilarious, though one of them is written deeper than the other. Caroline Aaron’s, Shirley Maisel, is more like a side kick to Kevin Pollack’s Moishe. Both want their son to remarry and continue his life.As with most parents, they don’t understand or listen to their child’s whims. Moishe spends more time with Joel, who starts to straighten out his father’s numbers and other problems that have gone ignored in the family business. Pollack has some nice scenes with Zegen throughout the series as they try to come to a middle ground in terms of business of Joel’s personal life.
All those performances are great, but nothing comes close to Brosnahan. The young actress has already won numerous awards for playing the title character and all of them are deserved. First off, she is damn hilarious and comes alive when she is on stage. Though she appears to look like a 1950’s Barbie Doll, she has bite that comes out when performing. She is the walking example of not judging a book by its cover. A mistake many men in the series figure out as she digs into them in front of an audience. What makes the character incredibly endearing is that despite all the roadblocks put in front of her, she never loses her charm, her femininity, or positive outlook. It is refreshing to see a good person, specifically a woman, who is the lead character in a popular show. On top of it all, she is a family woman, who is constantly in conflict with herself on how to deal with juggling her secretive career, her day job, and being the perfect mother, and daughter. She does have her faults, to which Brosnahan brings out in such a perfect way to make this seemingly amazing woman be flawed like the rest of us. Most of all, she is a woman in a man’s world, and at the time, a man’s profession, trying to make a name for herself.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is just a marvelous show that has something for everybody. It is hilarious, heartfelt, and wonderful in its first two seasons. The second season leaves with a serious moral question for our beautiful lead character, and I can’t wait to see what she decides to do as she chases her dream. Either way, it will be full of laughter and done with love.
I am giving The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a 4.5 out 5 Hairpieces!