All the world’s her stage

Mint ST - - FIRST -

It’s that time of year. Ama­zon Prime com­edy The Mar­velous Mrs Maisel, which came to our screens on 5 De­cem­ber, may be an even finer end-ofyear treat than Christ­mas—a com­par­i­son cal­cu­lated to please the per­snick­ety Jewish char­ac­ters on the show. Rachel Bros­na­han re­turns as the re­cently tri­umphant Mrs Maisel, even though that stage name she picked is far from ac­cu­rate: her char­ac­ter Miriam “Midge” Maisel is now di­vorced, hav­ing had her wed­ding ring handed to her, and Mr Maisel isn’t of­ten around. Yet she chooses to be an­nounced on stage as “Mrs Maisel”, and re­mains as marvel­lous as the ti­tle in­di­cates. Like Ju­lia Louis-drey­fus in Veep—who was vice-pres­i­dent, be­came pres­i­dent and is cur­rently nei­ther—here is a hero­ine too bright to be con­tained, even by the ti­tle of her own show.

We start by learn­ing where Midge gets her moxie. Miriam Hin­kle, who plays her im­mac­u­lately heeled mother Rose, comes into her own this sea­son, show­ing off her supreme stylish­ness with ef­fort­less non­cha­lance, throw­ing cau­tion to the winds and em­brac­ing change in a way that should in­spire us all. This won­der­ful show, cre­ated by Amy Sher­man-pal­ladino, is set in New York at the end of the 1950s, but the first episode takes us also to Paris. That tran­si­tion takes place with one dreamy shot, where the screen goes from the Man­hat­tan sky­line to the French cap­i­tal, the Em­pire State build­ing flipped on its head to take us to the Eif­fel Tower. What a snow-globe of a show.

Paris of that time is made for movie ro­mance, and the show com­plies. Imag­ine, if you will, Funny Face by way of Mid­night In Paris. There is much magic afoot as the city is mar­i­nated in sun-dried tones of sepia, that ex­quis­ite fire­side shade of orange light­ing up Rose beau­ti­fully. Those around her, like Midge and her fa­ther, Abe, played by Tony Shal­houb, can’t speak French and are con­founded by the city, but magic is head­ier than un­der­stand­ing, and as the show flits be­tween the lovely hats of Paris and atro­cious ones worn near mid­town New York, it de­clares how woman can, at any time, choose to be the hero­ine of her own story.

Ev­i­denced by Midge in­ad­ver­tently and un­pre­paredly thrust be­hind a mi­cro­phone af­ter a cabaret show, this sparkling sec­ond sea­son also re­minds us how any place can be­come a stage when a per­former is a true per­former.

All mics are open for those speak­ing stri­dently enough.

Here is a lead­ing lady who knows she’s lead­ing. I was struck by how fre­quently Midge Maisel praises her­self—“i’m bril­liant,” “I’m amaz­ing”—and this cock­i­ness would feel ob­nox­ious if it weren’t so mat­ter-of-fact, and, hon­estly, so well-de­served. Watch­ing Bros­na­han charm a crowd with mus­tard stains on her dress is a de­light, and it’s even bet­ter to watch her rage against dis­mis­sive male comics. “Com­edy is fu­elled by op­pres­sion, by the lack of power, by sad­ness and dis­ap­point­ment,” she says, roast­ing her slack-jawed and square com­pe­ti­tion as she an­nounces there­fore that “only women should be funny.”

This show fea­tures some of the finest writ­ing on tele­vi­sion, and while the David Mamet-style crosstalk re­mains as rapid, this year’s nar­ra­tive seems to take its time, breath­ing in the de­tails. The first five episodes of this 10-episode sea­son have been made avail­able for re­view, and while it is thus hard to rate this sea­son along­side the flaw­less first, this is more than enough ma­te­rial to be en­chanted by. The ac­tors shine, led by a di­vine Hin­kle and a win­ning Bros­na­han, while Shal­houb charms us with an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic beret and, oc­ca­sion­ally, com­i­cal socks. That sound­track re­mains smash­ing, par­tic­u­larly the rous­ingly cho­sen end-cred­its songs. Sher­man-pal­ladino has de­signed a high­heeled show, one that makes you feel up­beat and springy—and stylish by mere as­so­ci­a­tion.

Vis­ually, it’s a stun­ner. The first shot of the sea­son is a bit of track­ing wiz­ardry Martin Scors­ese would smirk at, go­ing from a show win­dow to a lady walk­ing by, to the sub­ter­ranean world of women an­swer­ing phones—“base­ment girls”—where we find Midge Maisel pick­ing up ev­ery­one else’s slack in her nat­u­rally in­vin­ci­ble fash­ion. The show is a freshly-painted clas­sic, and this choice of shot is ap­pro­pri­ate; the lady’s a good­fella.

Like in life, or at the end of a good joke, the show is rarely what you’d ex­pect. Midge hasn’t quite made it big, de­spite her mag­nif­i­cently gloved arms raised in tri­umph at the end of sea­son one, and she isn’t run­ning off to Morocco with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby just yet. The strug­gle of an artist is an un­ex­pect­edly up­hill one: there are things paint­ing a bowl of fruit sim­ply does not pre­pare one for.

Thank the com­edy gods for this hero­ine, who is such an ab­so­lute marvel— and has such an ab­so­lutely al­lit­er­a­tive name—that she could have been a Stan Lee cre­ation. She’s as su­per as hu­mans get.

Stream of Sto­ries is a col­umn on what to watch on­line. Raja Sen is a film critic and the au­thor of The Best Baker In The World (2017), a chil­dren’s adap­ta­tion of The God­fa­ther.

@ra­jasen

Midge Maisel is a lead­ing lady who knows she’s lead­ing.

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