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Priyanka Bhadani
Priyanka Bhadani

TV REVIEW

The difficulty of being a stand-up comic in the 50s

marvelous-mrs-maisel Marvelous Mrs Maisel trailer screenshot

We all turn into our parents one day,” read the headline of a newspaper column a few years ago. I thought about it. I initially disagreed with the statement, but accepted it in the following weeks—after closely observing myself and realising that I took after my parents in more ways than one. While watching the new Amazon TV series, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel—a period comedy series set in the 1950s—the thought came back.

26-year-old Jewish-American housewife Miriam Maisel (Rachel Brosnah), addressed mostly as Midge, is everything that her mother Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle) is—a housewife who considers obedience the greatest virtue of a married woman. She, exactly like her mother, removes her make up only after accompanying her husband to bed, and makes sure that she is prim and proper before he wakes up. But, as they say, circumstance is the biggest catalyst for a change.

Midge—who actively encourages her husband’s (Joel Maisel, played by Michael Zegen) part-time interest of being a stand-up comic, getting him appropriate slots in pubs in exchange for briskets—is dumped by her man and is trapped in a situation that will change her life forever. The journey to change begins on the day Joel announces that he is leaving her. She doesn't grieve sitting at home. She rather goes to a club, and, under the influence of alcohol, takes to the stage, performing a spontaneous set based on the developments in her life, to applause from the audience. And while she is still to realise her gift, Susie (Alex Borstein), the manager at the pub Gaslight, offers her management capabilities.

In one of the initial episodes, after Midge has moved to her parents apartment a floor below hers, her mother, Rose, noticing her disappearing act, remarks how she herself wouldn't know where to go after such an incident. Rose is surprised that her daughter has places to go, that too late in the evening, when her world should have been crashing down—her husband has left her after all. She is even more stunned when Midge announces that she is going to work. A married woman can't work. When the mother meets Joel the first time after Midge's decision to work at a make-up store, she tells him: “Your wife is working.” The message is clear. It has brought shame to her, to the family, and it should be equally shameful for the husband who decided to leave her.

But then, Midge is having the time of her life. She isn't the vulnerable sort. She rather takes the centerstage as a comic, and whether it is at a club or in parties which she attends with her colleagues of the stores, she manages to steal the limelight with her jokes.

Amy Sherman-Palladino, the creator of the show (the brains behind Gilmore Girls), subtly weaves in the crisis of the human mind, just like she did in Gilmore Girls with the lead characters Rory and Lorelai. While the spotlight is at Midge throughout the season, Susie has her moments too. In the first few episodes, her struggle to put Midge to the fore is fascinating. As with her rise, she would also become “significant”. Who does not? Susie, a frequent collaborator of Sherman-Palladino has a lot of such moments when, in order to get out of the rut of life, she makes life-like statements that leads you to some pondering.

With songs like Pass Me By (Peggy Lee), Rebel Rebel (David Bowie), Frank Sinatra's In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning among others—at the end of every episode—it's not just giving the episodes a perfect end, but is also reminiscent of the love that exists for everything old.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is marvellous in more ways than one—it is light-hearted, even when it is trying to broach serious issues like the place of women in the stand-up scene (episode 7 and 8 especially), its slice-of-life in the best way possible (mostly comes through in Midge's interaction with her parents). To top it all, it is funny—especially when Mrs Maisel holds the mic.

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