I’m Growing Skeptical of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel…

[Warning: Spoilers ahead. Please read only if you’re familiar with the show– I don’t want to ruin it for anyone!]

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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.

Watching TV Together

Despite all its perks (and yes, it had quite a few, I will admit), growing up an only child was difficult. From very early on I was an outgoing, happy child – nothing’s really changed on that front – and I loved making friends. I loved talking, I loved getting to know people, and again, not much has changed. But after school, when I got home, I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. My dad was gone a lot of the time, working to support me and my mom, and I thank him every day for that, and my mom was there but she also had her own life, which of course I don’t fault her for. She didn’t spend every waking moment with me, and that’s okay – but it was hard. Sometimes I’d go outside and talk to my dog, wishing that she’d talk back, or maybe that she’d bring me a little sister to play with (I would have taken a little brother too, but a sister would be preferred).

Which is why, when I got a bit older, I always looked forward to about 7 or 8 pm. Why? Because that’s when me and my mom would watch TV together. My mom always tells me I wasn’t like other kids – they would get up and walk around about 30 minutes into watching Cinderella. Not me. I’d sit in front of the TV, staring at it as though all my wishes could come true. I loved the TV. I didn’t have to sit and think about how bored or lonely I was – the kids on the screen would entertain me, tell me stories. I was best friends with Lizzie Mcguire and went to the same crazy school as Raven. But things got even better when my mom started letting me watch the adult shows with her.

I remember it, the nights when we’d go sit on the couch, maybe with popcorn or ice cream, snuggle in with a blanket and watch Heroes together. I think Heroes was our first, though I could be wrong. She wouldn’t let me watch Lost, because it might scare me, but Heroes was our show. I think we even watched The Bachelor together at some point. Watching TV with my mom has always been comforting, which may be why, now that I have an apartment with a TV, I’ve been turning to it more and more.

This week was a pretty stressful one for me (ugh, midterms), but what did I do? Marathoned seven straight episodes of Jane the Virgin of course. My roommate came and joined me around episode 4 and ended up staying through episode 8 – mostly ignoring her work, but also doing some reading too. Whereas I just laid on the couch and let Jane make me forget about all my stress. Sure, my work didn’t go away, but in some small part of me I remembered what it was like, at home with my mom, snuggled up to watch a show.

There’s no doubt about it; TV is obviously changing. Netflix is coming out with original (fantastic) television shows, and HBO has an online service separate from their television package. More and more people are turning into themselves to watch their favorite shows. When I told my friend that for one of my film classes I had to go to a movie screening every week she said “it’s on Netflix right? Then why go – you could just watch it here in your pjs?” And don’t get me wrong – I love my pjs, and I love my Perry the Platypus pillow pet (thanks Sarah) – but my professors aren’t wrong to make us all watch the movie together. It’s the same thing as when my roommates gathered to watch the premiere of Scream Queens.

There’s just something magical about watching TV together.

A Talk About Sequel Seasons: VGHS Season 2 Review

So lately I’ve been on a very goal oriented mission to finish all the TV shows that I’ve started this year. Unfortunately, this number is a LOT higher than it should be due to the fact that, well, school. So even though I might have such good intentions, I inevitably end up falling short and dropping off in the middle of a season or even an episode.

This list of shows is including but not limited to: Sherlock season 3, Doctor Who Series 7 (Clara), New Girl season 3 (and finishing Season 1 because I technically never watched all the episodes???), Legend of Korra season 2, and Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

Although this list shows how diverse and interesting my TV habits are, there’s something that most of them all have in common – they are all sequels.

And by sequels I don’t mean like a sequel movie, I mean a sequel series. Even though I’ve been waiting months (or even years in the case of Sherlock) to watch these shows, somehow….I just…haven’t.

Previously on the List of Things To Finish was the show Video Game High School Season 2. Last year, while taking flu medicine that wasn’t actually doing anything since my doctor misdiagnosed my infection, I ended up waking up early every day one week and yet not going to class, because, you know, infection. I didn’t miss much since I was in community college at the time, so instead of trying to do work I surfed Netflix for my new obsession.

And, as fate would have it, I stumbled upon Video Game High School, or VGHS. I thought, why not, I’ll give it a try, and ended up marathoning the entire show since Netflix had put each episode into one big movie. Instantly, I loved it. I’m not a gamer, and I’ll never be a gamer, but this show had great characters, interesting plot points, a fantastic, clever, and completely hilarious script, and a huge heart. Yes, VGHS was my new obsession. As you might guess, it’s about a high school that plays video games as its curriculum. The creators, YouTubers who are fairly famous around the internet (heard of Freddie Wong?), made this show both specific in its plot about gaming and yet accessible to anyone such as me who doesn’t even know the first thing about an FPS game.

So when I found out that there was a Kickstarter to fund a season 2, I was absolutely pumped. And, since I’m on this new finishing things streak, I decided to finish season 2 which had come out in early September.

While the characters are still the same, and still dynamic in their progression, and the script was both funny and witty, I was…dissatisfied with the end product. Majorly disappointed would actually be more accurate. I can’t say I didn’t like it, because I did enjoy watching the episodes, but it lost something this season.

Instead of sticking with the previous format of a show with a continuous plot that culminated to an exciting (and epic) finale, the creators opted to be more fluid with the layout of season 2. Each episode does build on the next, but in very small ways. There was no overarching theme or plot, and for the most part each problem presented was resolved within the episode, leaving the next one to pick up a new one. To me, it was Video Game Sitcom, not Video Game High School. The writing and characters are much more interesting, diverse, and funny than a sitcom, but the layout and plot were just so blah. I kept expecting something to pick up, especially since two great plot points were introduced at the very beginning in the first episode. However not one but both of these opportunities were wasted, and the season finale was so unsatisfying that I couldn’t believe that it was actually over. The creators even used a cliffhanger to draw in audiences (and give them an incentive to crowdsource their season 3 efforts), and honestly, I’m just disappointed.

Honestly, I mostly wanted to use this post this week to vent about my frustrations. There were so many good things about season 2 that I’m just really surprised that I’m so unsatisfied. But the sad thing is, there’s really nothing I can do. I’m not sure if I want a season 3 so that Freddie Wong and co. can redeem themselves, or if I just want to rewatch the golden entertainment that is VGHS. Either way, I’m coming to find out that sequel seasons can be amazing (Sherlock) – or they can be massive letdowns.