Season one of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” ended in a flurry of lights and applause. Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan, “Crisis in Six Scenes”) was high off the end of a successful stand-up performance. Amid her crumbling marriage and her feuding parents, she was rising above it all as a star. It was an inspiring ending, one that seemed to be the catalyst to a continuation of Mrs. Maisel’s ferocious fight to become a ruling presence in the male-dominated industry of stand-up comedy.
Yet, it seems that season two of the period comedy had different plans. Midge’s heroic stampede towards a career in comedy has become more a stifled shuffle as she has become a backdrop of her own starring role. The spotlight no longer has a clear target; it swings from Maisel’s estranged husband Joel (Michael Zegen, “Boardwalk Empire”) searching for an apartment and purpose, to her disillusioned parents Rose (Marin Hinkle, “Speechless”) and Abe (Tony Shalhoub, “Tales from Radiator Springs”) ruining and rebuilding their marriage. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is more “The Sad Boy Joel Maisel” or “The Delusional Abe and Rose Weissman,” with little opportunity to see what’s so marvelous about Mrs. Maisel.
Frustrations with the show can be summarized by a single scene in episode five. The Maisels and Weissmans are away in the Catskills, with our star being more concerned with trips to the salon and swimsuit competitions than the variety of gigs her driven, sharp manager Susie (Alex Borstein, “Family Guy”) booked for her. Midge is willing to skip the comedy opportunities for her break in the Catskills, but when she gets the call that the department store she works at needs her at the Revlon counter, she practically jets the 120 miles back to Manhattan. This makes for a short yet wonderful little scene, as Midge imitates monotone, depressing news radio on the ride back with a spunky potential love interest, Benjamin (Zachary Levi, “Tangled: The Series”), but it sadly highlights what the show has become, and where it could have gone.
That’s still not to say that “Mrs. Maisel” has lost its edge; it’s just juggling with it. The scenes are still beautifully shot, the dialogue still witty and quick-paced. Each scene’s gaud, movement and backing music make for an experience that feels as close to a classic Broadway musical as television can get (Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” soundtracking a walk through 1950s Paris with your betrothed? Um, yes please?). The sophomore season isn’t muddled, it isn’t bad, it’s just exasperating. Every time Midge so much as glances at her former husband, you just want to scream and remind her that he cheated on her even when she did everything right, with his secretary nonetheless. He couldn’t even cheat in a unique way, and still his pity party gets screen time.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” continues to be better than 90 percent of everything else on television, which is why it can afford its stumbles. There are glimpses of the old “Mrs. Maisel” throughout the first half of the sophomore season, enough for the audience to root desperately for it to break through completely. Faith should not be lost in Midge and her quest for comedic glory, the camera just needs to find its way back to her. For now, find some joy in Joel’s misery and fondness in the Weissmans’s revitalized marriage. They are just simple opening acts to an up-and-coming, astonishing, smart-mouthed comedian.