‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ is back with a vengeance
Isa Sheikh | Monday, March 21, 2022
“Revenge,” Miriam “Midge” Maisel says as the camera reveals her silhouette on stage, cigarette in hand, stage lights right in her face. “Oh, do I want it.”
“You should be a bigger man and just let it go,” Maisel thinks aloud. “Well, I’m a woman. So f*ck that.” Launching into a genuinely funny routine about “Shakespearean revenge,” Maisel begins to plot dastardly vengeance: digging up her high school instrument and playing klezmer music next to you 24 hours a day, sneaking into your basement and frying a fish or befriending your only daughter and subsequently setting her up with a poet she’ll marry.
There’s a reason why I was glued to my futon last semester in dire need of some cough syrup. The sitcom was enough of a remedy to get me through those unmedicated nights. I was shocked that I hadn’t seen this show earlier — I had missed perhaps one of the most original series in years. The recreated 1950s New York City, the colors, the hats and coats, the zany but grounded plot lines and the nostalgic aesthetics create a perfect world to escape into. Its return is more than welcome.
The fourth and penultimate season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” now streaming in its entirety on Amazon Prime, opens with this scene of the titular character (an Emmy-winning portrayal by Rachel Brosnahan) on stage at The Gaslight. We were introduced to the seedy Greenwich Village coffeehouse and club in the very first episode of the series, when Mrs. Maisel would bake a brisket each week so her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) could get a slot on stage that night and perform a lazy routine while Midge sat and dutifully made notes on which lines worked better than most. It’s the same club where she launched her own comedy career in a wild performance the night Joel decided to end their marriage. Back to the beginning.
Embittered once more, this season sees Midge once more struggling with her unglamorous career, coping with her family’s shenanigans, a confused romantic future and much more. While it may be a return to square one following the fallout of the previous season and can at moments feel redundant, it works. Creator and showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino of “Gilmore Girls” is still writing and directing as wittily as ever. There are more than enough inventive plot lines to keep the audience glued to the screen, including an emcee gig that Midge takes at a less-than-legal establishment and the involvement of the mob in procuring an office space. Even the mundane, from Midge walking down a busy street to a scene of her father writing a review of a play at the typewriter, is endlessly watchable.
While the dialogue is written masterfully, the series could not have a better cast. In particular, Tony Shalhoub marvels in another Emmy-winning role as Midge’s buttoned-down father, Abe, the former Columbia math professor embarking on a career shift himself. Marin Hinkle, playing Midge’s mother Rose, is hilarious as a woman far too proper to understand any of Midge’s antics. Zegen, playing the estranged husband who is introduced to us as such an egregious villain, continues to make Joel a compelling character as he faces his own romantic prospects while opening a club of his own in Chinatown. Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron are laugh-out-loud funny as Joel’s parents and some of the best line deliveries of the season, both sardonic and emotional, go to Alex Borstein, who plays Midge’s butch trouble-ridden manager Susie. Jane Lynch also shines in her recurring role as a washed-up comic.
The central scene of the first episode of the season features Midge revealing her career setbacks to her family as they all sit in different cars of a Ferris wheel, setting off the utter chaos of a Rube Goldberg machine as shouted questions and taunts leads to one revelation after the next, while her ex-mother-in-law Shirley screams across the wheel at the children if they’re enjoying the funnel cake, and if they want more.
Many of Mrs. Maisel’s problems are never as real as they would be in real life — she may be broke, but she can buy back her old apartment; she might be a working mother, but she never has to take care of her children; her husband left her, but she has prospects! And that’s why it’s so easy to escape into this absolutely delightful world. Unlike other successful entertainment projects that might revel in tension and anxiety, sitting down to watch an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the perfectly witty, adroit, emotionally intelligent escape from the far-too-real and un-color-coordinated realities of reality. And goodness is Tony Shalhoub fantastic.
Title: “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”
Starring: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle, Michael Zegen
Showrunner: Amy Sherman-Palladino
If you like: “Gilmore Girls,” “Monk,” “Hacks,” Mel Brooks’s Jewish sense of comedy
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5