Mrs. Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan, “I’m Your Woman”), affectionately known as Midge, is drunk, on the verge of a breakdown and all-out spiraling after a man has completely upended her life; her impeccably put-together ensemble is only looking ever so slightly worse for wear. This is the pilot premise of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”: a character at absolute rock bottom, who the audience inevitably falls in love with as her life falls apart. My question is: Why is this an equally accurate description of the show’s season four premiere?
The first three seasons of the critically acclaimed show have progressed along steadily, the character-driven plot hardly having a chance to catch its breath against the breakneck speed of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino’s (“Gilmore Girls”) witty and sharp dialogue. To call it fast-paced is akin to saying Usain Bolt would fare well in a speed-walking contest. Fans of the show have come to expect this signature trademark of Palladino’s writing, so why has Palladino chosen this crucial moment in Midge’s trajectory to slow things down and go back to where it all started?
From the downtown New York club circuit of season one, to Paris and the Catskills in season two, to a national tour in season three, the scope (and magnificent production design I might add) of the show has grown, each season building on the last, expanding in reach to give Midge the proper domain to flourish in her stage and familial presence. After closing out the last two seasons on career highs, Midge has been knocked down a rung on the ladder of success and finally faced some real consequences for the impulsivity and raw honesty of her act. We’ve regressed further than ever before, the parallels to the pilot washing over this season’s premiere: from familiar apartment sets to drunken impromptu stage takeovers and, of course, another arrest for her rap sheet.
A silver lining to the whole blast-from-the-past act is the pure contradiction of Midge herself. She radiates an air of self-assuredness and confidence in her own capabilities so often reserved for male characters of incontestable genius that is so unbelievably refreshing to watch. At times, she can be infuriatingly shallow and full of herself but, unlike her male counterparts, she’s likable. Brosnahan firmly grounds her character, makes her egoism more endearing than irksome, her arrogance more attractive than aggravating. You can’t help but root for her as she runs against the grain of a white man’s world of comedy.
Even though Midge isn’t always self-aware, the show itself certainly is. In a moment of laughable frustration, she vents to her toddler Esther, “It’s a fucking man’s world,” and in response to being told to “be the bigger man,” she says, “Well, I’m a woman so, fuck that.” Midge is headstrong and uncompromising in her beliefs; a well-seasoned pro has no time to spare in doubting her talent or questioning her decisions. Apart from the initial breakdown, Midge bounces back quick as ever and is fairly level-headed about moving forward after the near-collapse of her career.
A true highlight of this premiere is the Wonder Wheel scene at Coney Island. Midge’s parents have rescheduled Ethan’s (Matteo Pascale, debut) birthday for their convenience, to which Midge shows up unannounced to tell everyone she’s been fired. As per usual, Palladino never fails to take advantage of an overlapping conversational scene between the entire family. A change of pace from the usual outbursts at dinner or the synagogue, everyone is shouting and cutting each other off as the camera swiftly hops from car to car to catch a glimpse of everyone’s reaction. It’s well-executed and a real testament to the show’s smart writing and innovative camera work.
It’s unclear as to where “Mrs. Maisel” is headed next, as Midge’s career arc folding in on itself leaves the show in a cyclic lull of sorts. But it continues to do what it has always done best. The visuals are immaculate, and Midge’s wardrobe alone is enough to make any Audrey Hepburn wannabe green with envy. And the comedy is unflinchingly consistent; Tony Shalhoub (“Monk”) as Abe never has a dull scene. His line delivery and mannerisms, as well as the fluidity of his interactions with the rest of the family, allow him to steal the spotlight in an ensemble of characters each worthy of their own show. Susie (Alex Borstein, “Family Guy”) is flawed but lovable, Joel (Michael Zegen, “Brooklyn”) is growing on me a little too much for my liking and Rose (Marin Hinkle, “Two and a Half Men”) remains an underrated gem.
Our beloved protagonist may have been unceremoniously booted back to square one, but I have a feeling she won’t stick around there for long. Keep your tits — ahem, chin — up Midge, there are bigger and better things waiting on the horizon.
Daily Arts Contributor Serena Irani can be reached at email@example.com.