[Warning: Spoilers ahead. Please read only if you’re familiar with the show– I don’t want to ruin it for anyone!]
From the very first episode of Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel starring Rachel Brosnahan, I was utterly, breathlessly hooked. From the cinematography to the flouncy ‘50s costume design to the vibrant pastels to the gorgeous New York landscapes– from the premise of a high-spirited, hilarious young mom who finds herself suddenly divorced by her flighty jerk of a husband, to her assent into New York’s comedy scene as a woman– from her caustically funny manager to her down-to-earth father and her new season 2 boyfriend– the jokes, the conversation, the writing– everything about this TV show, at first glance, is extremely well done. I loved it, and still do. But Season 2 made me suddenly weary of all its flaws. I found out, moreover, that the show is written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, of Gilmore Girls fame. From where Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel ended, knowing the poor large-scale writing for Gilmore Girls, and after deconstructing the subtly problematic premises of Midge’s character, I’ve come to seriously fear for the fate of the rest of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The last episode of Season 2 ended with Midge getting a call from a famous singer asking her to tour with him in Europe for six months. This is big break she’s been waiting for a year now since she’d seriously started doing comedy. However, by the end of the episode and season, she realizes that her focus on her career necessarily means she’ll lose her domestic family life. The last minute of the series shows Midge going back to her ex-husband to spend only one night with someone who she knows loves her. Theoretically, a woman being torn between domestic, conventional life and pursuing a career in comedy in the fifties could be a very compelling and believable conflict, especially in the midst of a divorce– but this really isn’t the case for Midge. If there’s anything that Susie Meyerson reminds us of over and over again, it’s that Midge is extremely well off and has multiple support systems. She doesn’t really need to choose between her career and her family– she has parents and a maid at home who basically provide totally free child care and housing, she has an ex-husband who is still gaga over her and willing to beat up any blundering male comic who gets in her way, a boyfriend who– on top of being an accomplished surgeon and owning a mansion of a New York apartment– is head over heels for Midge and wants her to live out her dreams of being a comedian, she has a manager who works tirelessly to book her in the best gigs in and out of New York– and yet– you really expect me, an intelligent audience member, to believe that Midge has to choose between her career and the rest of her life? It’s bullshit.
And… this is where I remember that the show was written by Amy Sherman-Palladino. She’s a fantastic writer and director, always seamlessly building engaging and funny dialogue, directing gorgeous scenes and settings. It’s all fun to watch episode to episode. But her work breaks down upon closer inspection, and, if there’s anything I know from watching Gilmore Girls, Palladino’s writing meanders and gets lost somewhere in the middle of the series, and I’m worried this will also be the fate of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Both series center around a powerful female character archetype– like smart, good-natured, and hard-working Rory Gilmore and lively, stunning, hilarious Miriam Maisel– who have huge networks of support, wealth, and privilege, and whose only downfall, apparently, is being a woman. These characters don’t seem to have a lot of flaws, they’re perfectly poised. In short, it’s just a fantasy that it becomes a little hard to believe at some point. Emily Nussbaum in an article called “Hello, Gorgeous!” for The New Yorker sums it up perfectly: “The verbal anachronisms (“totally”), the sitcom clams (“Good talk!”), the cloying Disneyfication of Midge’s Jewish family…. Her marvellousness comes from the fact that she’s immune, a self-adoring alpha whose routines feel like feminist TED talks, with some “fucks” thrown in.”
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, is, like Gilmore Girls, a sweeping, glittering fantasy of a powerful and ambitious young woman storming the world that Americans, and especially American women, seem to want to right now. It’s not a bad fantasy– in fact, it’s quite good and engaging and hilarious, a distraction from exhausting dystopias like The Handmaid’s Tale. But like all fantasies, it’s not an accurate reflection of sexism or the stakes of chasing a reckless dream. I’ll definitely keep watching the show– but not without a grain of salt.