Spitfire ‘Mrs. Maisel’ dives deeper
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 first 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 first 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 confirm Joel and Midge’s marriage is over for good, which any viewer could have surmised from the Season 1 finale.
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.
Rachel Brosnahan returns as Midge Maisel on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”