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‘Mrs. Maisel’ Is Still Great. Just a Little Less So.
It was bound to happen. The tightest curls sometimes fall out, the most meticulous makeup smudges, the perfectly pressed skirt wrinkles, or, in the case of Midge Maisel, the punchline doesn’t land. With The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a comedy series with two astonishingly strong, award-winning seasons under its belt, the quality was going to at some point falter. The marvelous was going to get a little bit meh.
But the thing about a show that holds itself to as high a standard as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel does is that this isn’t even that harsh of a criticism. Even a season that it is a little underwhelming when put up against those first two go-rounds is exceptional TV, and superior to most of the glut of options being thrust at us today. By all means, continue to watch and delight in this show. It’s wonderful still. Sterling K. Brown comes on board. They go to Vegas!
The previous season ended, should you need a recap, with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) breaking off an engagement to a charming doctor (played by Zachary Levi) in order to go on tour as the opening act for musician Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain). Her ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen) agrees to watch the kids while she’s gone, and their status as the world’s most simpatico soon-to-be divorcees escalates when they fall into bed together.
When the new season picks up, Midge is performing a USO gig before heading on tour. It’s one of those fantastic sequences that’s become one of the show’s signatures, a mesmerizing tracking shot showcasing hordes of G.I. extras, spectacular dancers, and an airplane hanger’s stunning transformation into a true-to-period set. That visual aesthetic is as ambitious as any production on TV, but notable for romanticizing the world we’re seeing instead of gritting it up or pummelling it with violence and special effects.
Brosnahan is in fine, breathless form. Alex Borstein as her manager, Susie, showcases more vulnerability and insecurity than in past years, proving once again that she may be the most valuable supporting actress on TV. The Midge-Susie dynamic continues to pay off in spades.
Of the supporting cast, Marin Hinkle, especially, reaps the benefits of the expanded scope. She’s fantastic as Rose, Midge’s mother, who is both emboldened by her daughter’s intrepid, feminist drive and resentful that taking a stand often means foregoing the comforts of the status quo. That Hinkle manages to mine such great moments from what is, sadly, an insufferable storyline—she and husband Abe (Tony Shalhoub) are forced to move out of their luxe Upper East Side apartment and in with their former in-laws in Queens—is a testament to how great she is.
The problem is, however, that not much happens. Or maybe too much happens. More than ever before, the show seems scattered. It’s a struggle to stay invested in the sprawling side plots. As before and as always, there’s just no making me care about Joel.
The lack of focus and the litany of beautiful set pieces—We’re in Vegas! We’re in Florida at the pool! We’re on a swoon-inducing date with Lenny Bruce!—create an illusion that we’ve gone somewhere with these characters, when, at least in the five episodes I screened, it doesn’t seem like anybody’s moved much at all.
Of course, lavishing in the show’s crack dialogue, ace performances, and sumptuous cinematography is hardly time wasted, and sometimes even a justifiable enough distraction from the fact that the narrative seems a bit lost. The girl is so danged irresistible, that you can’t help fawning over her even when she’s The Marvelous Mrs. Meh-sel.
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