The fast-talking New York housewife who discovers a flair for stand-up comedy is back. In its second season, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is just as stylish, glib and popping with colours and chaos, but it’s also palpably more self-confident.
Expanded, with two additional episodes (to 10), the new season opens a year after the last episode where Midge Maisel’s (Rachel Brosnahan) secret profession had just been discovered by her estranged husband Joel (Michael Zegen).
Season two opens in department store B Altman. To the tune of Barbara Streisand’s Just Leave Everything To Me, the camera tracks into the basement to reveal Midge in her new job.
While this may be new, other things are not. Midge is still hiding her alter ego – the stand-up comedian, Mrs. Maisel -- from her parents. Her manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) continues to work the phones and use her street smarts in the hope of landing a paying gig and Joel and Midge are still in each other’s orbits.
Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino neatly links season two with the last episode of the first season before taking us out of the claustrophobia of New York’s smoky bars and insular Jewish society to the culturally bustling cafés and museums of Paris. The sudden trip to Paris – which is a muted transit stop -- focusses on Rose (Marin Hinkle), Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and their family dynamics. If Mrs. Maisel in New York (or the Catskills Mountains) in the summer evokes a packet of Skittles, Paris is tonally closer to chocolate milkshake.
Back to New York, repack, load the car and the Weissmans head off for their annual summer in the Catskills. The director and camera hardly pause or offer respite. The movements become more choreographed, revisiting the ubiquitous Broadway tenor of season one. As the Weissmans check in for their extended stay at the summer cottage, the direction has stage show feels with many single-take shots and perfectly designed set pieces. The resort also provides a rich setting for quirky characters, opportunities for some situational comedy and the introduction of new players, such as doctor Benjamin (Zachary Levi).
Of the recurring characters, Midge’s two children still appear to be rather neglected, or perhaps Midge just has access to really dependable babysitters. Luke Kirby returns as the popular comic Lenny Bruce and Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron are around as Moishe and Shirley Maisel.
Donna Zakowska’s costumes are another returning feature. So vivid and so celebratory of the 1950s that they are often more involving than the incessant and accelerated jabbering.
Rachel Brosnahan has the toughest job. As Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel she has to learn the monologues and deliver them with aplomb from under a spotlight. Her conversations with Susie are among the most crackling and it’s no wonder that both actresses bagged Emmy wins (best actress and best supporting actress respectively) for their performances.
The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel continues to be about Midge’s ambition and her coming of age – as a woman of privilege swimming against the tide when her conventional, picture-perfect life falls apart. Through her encounters at the clubs, the creators underline gender prejudices, double standards and opinions of the time. In her act, Midge hits on taboo topics and is that rare thing -- a woman stand up with a potty-mouth that is bold, defiant and funny. But she’s not an altogether likeable character. She talks too fast, has no filters after a few tipples and reckons herself as something of a know-it-all.
The two actors that bring a whole lot of frisson to the show are Borstein and Shaloub. If there is one character who deserves a spin-off, it would be the meticulous, idiosyncratic Maths professor Abe. Zegen’s Joel also has a compassionately developing arc.
At the halfway mark, the season was nicely poised with Midge facing various opportunities and threats. As hurried and breathless as it sometimes feels, the first five episodes (shared in advance with reviewers) indicate that there is plenty more to come. And rather than hold one’s breath, it might be advisable to enjoy the flavourful comedy, the colourful chaos and the music infused into Mrs. Maisel’s world, one showcase at a time.
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