New York City in the ’50s was truly a time. The cars were gaudy, the clothes were lavish and the women were confined to the domestic sphere, subordinate to their husbands. It was a lifestyle few dared to question, and for a while, Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan, “Patriots Day”) was among the compliant.
Midge is the ideal housewife. She measures herself every day to ensure she keeps up her figure. She waits to take her makeup off until her husband is asleep, and she has it back on by the time he wakes up. She supports her husband’s hopeless side job as a comedian, even bribing club owners with homemade brisket to get him the best time slot. The world according to Midge is perfect, and for the first 30 minutes of the Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Gilmore Girls”) comedy, it seems like things are going to stay that way.
But “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” would not be the unsuspecting gem that it is if our title character did nothing, well, marvelous. Though her quick wits and thick vintage New York accent are charming, the moment you fall in love with Midge is the moment her life falls apart. After her husband Joel (Michael Zegen, “Brooklyn”) admits to an affair with his secretary and leaves her, Midge downs a bottle of red wine and drunkenly taxis to the club that she would usually attend to watch Joel do his (stolen) comedy routine. With her makeup running and her usually-compact physique bloating, Midge turns the story of the worst day of her life into a uproarious comedy routine, one that catches the attention of both the star-spotting bartender and the policemen that cart her away for public indecency. It’s a sharp departure from the pastel and pristine homemaker we’d seen before, but one that propels the episode and the series into something worth watching.
“Marvelous” hits that sweet spot between funny and touching that so many comedies try yet fail to achieve. And at a time when our male comedic heroes are dropping one by one, the magic of “Marvelous” is crusaded by women, from the writers behind the scenes to the actresses lighting up our screens. Midge is not a housewife in need of saving: She is painted as a strong female whether she’s making latkes or pursuing stardom as a potential stand-up comedian. She reeks confidence so much that it leaps off the screen and fills the viewer with assurance that absolutely nothing will ever stop this woman.
It’s rare to find a show in which not a single aspect feels wrong or out-of-place, but “Marvelous” is truly about as flawless as a show of its genre can get. Everything from the upbeat, retro soundtrack to the pleasing aesthetics of old-time New York to the lovable banter between Upper West Side Midge and take-no-shit Susie (Alex Borstein, “Family Guy”) crafts a show that is worthy of nothing but praise. Best of all, “Marvelous” is just a lot of fun to watch. Viewers are treated to the story of a bad-ass Jewish woman who finally comes into her own all while making unlikely friends, fighting off an unworthy ex and breaking into the comedy industry, an industry which, to this day, is dominated by men. It’s enough to inspire you to dump your lowly lover or write that book you keep putting off until tomorrow. Or, at the very least, down a glass or two of red wine and share your secrets with the world. You never know who might be listening.