Spitfire ‘Mrs. Maisel’ dives deeper

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Kelly Lawler

Ama­zon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” re­turns for its sec­ond sea­son Wed­nes­day, fresh from win­ning eight Emmy Awards, in­clud­ing out­stand­ing com­edy and ac­tress in a com­edy, for star Rachel Bros­na­han.

That’s a lot of hype to live up to, and, thank­fully, in its sec­ond sea­son, “Maisel” man­ages to avoid get­ting weighed down by its own pre­ten­tious­ness. Nor does it fail to meet all those high ex­pec­ta­tions. Af­ter a false start of a Parisian sea­son pre­miere, the new sea­son is as sunny as its even­tual Catskills re­sort set­ting, even if there’s just a hint of dark sky on the hori­zon.

For those just jump­ing on board the “Maisel” train, the dram­edy, cre­ated by Amy Sher­man-Pal­ladino (”Gil­more Girls”), made its way to Emmy glory with the story of a 1950s house­wife­turned-co­me­dian, Midge Maisel (Bros­na­han). Midge falls into com­edy when her hus­band Joel (Michael Ze­gen) abruptly leaves her and their idyl­lic Up­per West Side life for his young sec­re­tary. The first sea­son mostly deals with Midge’s can­non­ball into com­edy, with the help of her man­ager Susie (Alex Borstein, another Emmy win­ner), and the fall­out from Midge and Joel’s sep­a­ra­tion, as Midge moves back in with her par­ents Rose (Marin Hin­kle) and Abe Weiss­man (Tony Shal­houb).

The new sea­son starts off less about Midge’s com­edy ca­reer and more about how she, her par­ents and Joel are form­ing new lives that defy the ex­pec­ta­tions of their era, both to them­selves and to other peo­ple. The se­ries ex­pertly shows how even mi­nor steps out­side the norm make gi­ant waves and lead to gi­ant con­se­quences.

The first episode is a mis­step that sends Midge’s mother on a soul-search­ing trip to Paris, a devel­op­ment that ap- pears to come out of nowhere and ends equally con­fus­ingly. Rose’s de­sire to leave her hus­band and her life in New York feels more like an ex­cuse to shoot in Paris than true char­ac­ter devel­op­ment, and although it leads to the end­lessly funny sight gag of Shal­houb wear­ing a black beret, the trip abroad mostly makes “Maisel” run in place for the en­tire episode. That in­cludes mul­ti­ple scenes that confirm Joel and Midge’s mar­riage is over for good, which any viewer could have sur­mised from the Sea­son 1 finale.

But once the Maisels and the Weiss­mans are back in New York, the se­ries starts swing­ing again. When the show leaves Man­hat­tan for an ex­pen­sive re­sort in the Catskills, a la “Dirty Danc­ing,” the set­ting feels far more nat­u­ral than Paris, and it mines hu­mor from the leisurely lives of the mid-cen­tury Jewish elite.

Bros­na­han re­mains on point, al­low­ing Midge to stray fur­ther from her Up­per West Side per­sona, mak­ing her just as trea­cly but with an even big­ger potty mouth than be­fore. Midge is still a woman whose self-right­eous­ness leads to dev­as­tat­ing mis­takes, and it only gets worse this sea­son, from an­ger­ing a booker to ru­in­ing a friend’s wed­ding.

As won­der­ful as Bros­na­han and the rest of the cast is, the cham­pion of the sec­ond sea­son is Shal­houb. He broad­ens a char­ac­ter who mostly op­er­ated in anger and frus­tra­tion in Sea­son 1, show­ing range and mak­ing Abe the fun­ni­est mem­ber of the cast who doesn’t per­form stand-up. But Shal­houb man­ages to break your heart as he makes you slap your knee.

AMA­ZON

Rachel Bros­na­han re­turns as Midge Maisel on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

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