R29 Binge Club: Amazon's Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 1

Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
This time last year, fans of quirky woman-led, pop culture-obsessed dramedies were still basking in the afterglow of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life. No, the Netflix outing wasn’t perfect, but, at least it bought creator-producer Amy Sherman-Palladino’s signature style back to television. And, almost exactly 365 days after that Stars Hollow event, AS-P has gifted fans with an entirely new series: Amazon’s Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, whose pilot includes one of my favorite scenes of 2017.
The series follows the titular marvelous Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a 1950s housewife who expects her life will fall apart when her marriage does. Yet, that tragedy is not exactly what befalls the young New Yorker because she has something her estranged husband doesn't — actual comedic talent. Instead, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 1 tracks what happens when the traditional path you’ve always envisioned for yourself blows up in a single night and you’re forced to figure out who you really are and what you really want. For Midge that means an unexpected burgeoning career in the downtown boys club that was, and still traditionally-slash-sadly is, the stand-up comedy scene.
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Keep reading for a live recap of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's crackling first season, and keep coming back as we update this story throughout the day. We bet Lorelai and Rory would be binge watch right along with us if they could.
Episode 1 — “Pilot”
Many bingeable streaming shows take their time to tell you who their heroine is. I mean, if a show gives you all the answers immediately, won’t it be that much harder to get a viewer hooked? Over on Netflix, we’re two seasons into Stranger Things, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of super-powered, sometimes-murderous tween Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — and, therefore, the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — doesn’t worry about that dilemma. From the literal first second of the dramedy, we know Midge Maisel. And, I love her.
Like any good stand-up act, the series opens with a killer bit. Midge’s is inadvertently performing, well, stand-up at her own wedding, three glasses of Champagne in. “Who does that?” she asks with a bemused smile. The answer she proudly gives is, of course, “I do.” Midge is immediately a girl after my own heart.
Speaking of Midge being a girl after my own heart, I have to admit something to you, Maisel friend. By the time I was in 6th grade I had a folder in my middle school backpack fill with print-outs from the College Board website detailing what, exactly, one had to do to score a successful career in journalism. By about 16 I was settled on going to Syracuse University to start that career in journalism. And, a few months after I was 17, I applied early decision to Syracuse. Weeks later I was in, and, eight years later, here I am writing to you. Yet, Midge, who also decided to inadvisably go blonde in college, has me beat.
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Midge plans. While I lazily waited until I was wearing a training bra to settle on my college major, she picked out Russian Literature at 6. At 13, while I was only just starting to peruse the ASME academics tab at that age, Midge announced she was heading to Bryn Mawr college. And she had a dorm room all picked out — “In Katherine Hepburn’s old room,” her mom Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle) purrs in the background. As a flashback shows, Midge attained these goals complete with a “fat” freshman year roommate who apparently wouldn’t have the ability to steal our hero’s hypothetical boyfriend. It seems the generally beloved Sherman-Palladino hasn’t kicked the random, jarring spurts of fatphobia looming in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life.
As quickly as the unexpected body-shaming arrives, so it goes. Instead, we see Midge is the kind of woman comfortable enough with the human form to run outside while waiting for full-Brazilian-style bikini area bleach to finish its job or go to a topless burlesque show. She even had very public sex in what appears to be the Bryn Mawr quad after getting engaged to her now-husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen) and throws her very Jewish wedding into chaos by joking there’s shrimp in the egg rolls. Midge couldn’t be more pleased with herself.
And, so, we pick up four years later, with Midge as a happy, still-wealthy, Upper West Side mom-of-two and wife. Oh, and the rabbi has finally forgiven her for the shrimp pandemonium after nearly half a decade. Everything's coming up roses for Midge, and that means something obviously has to go wrong. That something is her marriage with Joel, an uptown office drone by day, a downtown aspiring comedian by night. Midge acts as his psuedo manager, jotting down detailed notes about Joel’s sets — “You got three more laughs tonight than you did last time” — and bribing cafe bookers with pot roast in exchange for better performance time slots.
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Unfortunately, all of this hard work is for naught, since Joel is a fraud. While watching The Ed Sullivan Show one night, Midge sees genuinely famous comic Bob Newhart doing the exact set Joel just did at the Gaslight in the Village. While Midge fumes over the conclusion she jumps to, that Bob stole her husband’s act, man-baby Joel reveals he’s the thief in the situation. Obviously. Joel tries to shrug away the creative larceny claiming “everyone” “borrows” to get their start. Midge is not so sure. This explains why Gaslight employee Susie Meyerson (Gilmore Girls’ original Sookie, Alex Borstein) gave Joel the stink-eye after “his” performance the other night. And, why Susie is less-than-enthused to see him the night of his next performance.
Now exposed as a liar to his wife, Joel bombs in front of Midge, their best couple friends, and an entire room of people who look like Allen Ginsberg. As an anxiety-ridden Joel was already doing before his public embarrassment, he projects his frustrations onto Midge. Finally, in between prattling on about expecting life would be “something more,” Joel announces he’s leaving Midge — oh, and he's been cheating on her with his secretary for months. “So you’ll tell your parents for me,” he asks, cementing his fate as a coward. At 28, Joel is having a quarter-life crisis over 50 years before quarter-life crises were A Thing.
Midge goes to tell her parents, who conveniently live right upstairs, of Joel’s bombshell, and it's immediate madness. Rose starts running around the impossibly expansive apartment sobbing, while her academic father Abe Weissman (Monk himself, Tony Shalhoub) rages. Everyone is blaming Midge for her marriage’s collapse. The newly-single woman copes the only way we can expect her to: inadvisably taking the subway and drinking red wine out of the bottle, which, as Scandal proves, is the truest signal of distress. Midge shows up at the Gaslight wine-drunk, rain-soaked, and in her nightgown.
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Thus begins Midge’s true journey. She hops on-stage and delivers a stunning monologue for a genuine newbie, mining comedy through the pain of her exploding life. In the crescendo of her act, she drops her dress to prove her prized twins are still “standing up on their own.” The men in the audience are delighted, the women appalled, and the police officers are inspired to toss Midge in a cop car. Susie, who caught Midge’s inadvertent act, bails the Upper West Sider out of jail within 20 minutes and asks her to pursue stand-up. Like any good hero, Midge turns down the journey... That is until she really hears what actual mediocre white men sound like onstage and immediately tells Susie it’s time to get to work.
This would be a fine end to the pilot, but we need some legitimate romance right? That arrives in the form of Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), the also-married veteran comedian who was in the same cop car as Midge. She bails Lenny, whom the Maisels coincidentally went to see years ago, out of prison, and the funny people already have more chemistry than present-day Midge and Joel. Ladies and gentleman, do I spot the beginnings of a love triangle?
Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “If you need money we can give you money.”
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Episode 2 — “Ya Shivu V Bolshom Dome Na Kholme”
Welcome to the first day of the rest of Miriam Maisel’s life. As someone who watched the above-mentioned “Pilot” and second episode “Ya Shivu v Bolshom Dome Na Kholme” months apart, I originally assumed some time had passed in Midge’s life between the episodes as well. But, you know what they say about making assumptions. Rather, Midge’s little tete-a-tete with handsome-in-a-retro-way Lenny and the subsequent events of “Bolshom” happen directly after what we see in the series premiere.
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This explains why Susie, whom Midge scheduled a 9:30 a.m. meeting with following her own arrest-worthy performance, is so angry the first time we see her camped outside of the Maisel apartment. We’re looking at the exact day Midge stood up her new night owl friend to bail Lenny out of jail, head to an aerobics class, eat at a diner alone, announce she’s alone, and put on yet another magical dress. Though, dear Susie, do not despair, for Midge didn’t mean to leave you high and dry — she simply forgot about you. “Now that I know I literally didn’t even enter into your…” a peeved Susie fumes before realizing her first client lives in a palace.
It’s a welcomed sight to witness someone finally gape at the grandeur of the Maisel abode, since everyone else behaves as though, to quote Queen Cardi B, it’s regular degular shmegular. Just to be clear, the two-bedroom, unending apartment is not regular degular shmegular. As someone who visited the Maisel set over the summer, I can confirm the sprawling space, which was decorated as Midge’s parents place at the time, does feel like “fucking Versailles,” as Susie quips, and fit for Charlemagne. Unfortunately, I did not find an airplane in the bathroom.
Once Susie is done riffing on Midge’s sticky-handed children, tardiness, and access to not one, but two, Buckingham Palace-esque homes, it’s time to get down to business. That business is actual business since the naturally talented Midge agreed to pursue stand-up under Susie’s guidance last night, but now, free of the devil-may-care influence of red wine, she tries to deny her destiny once again. It’s no surprise her opinion on a comedy career has changed, since she doesn’t even remember flashing her Gaslight audience the night prior, let alone all of her liquid courage-fueled promises. We guess our hero has to refuse her journey twice, since the first time it was the overpriced pinot noir talking?
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That is how Midge ends up trying to convince Susie she’s not the woman she was last night, but, rather, the conventional housewife she was before she ever stepped onstage downtown. She tries to explain this to her would-be manager by doing an accidental mini-set, which Susie recognizes and starts taking notes down while Midge pretends she wasn’t Made For This.
Although Susie is correct, it’s easy to see why Midge is so unsure about starting an entirely new path. As she realized in aerobics class earlier that day, if things don’t change soon, she’s going to end up in the accursed divorcee corner of exercise class with the Martha Kilgallins of the world. Remember how divorcees were treated like the boogeymen of the early Mad Men seasons? That fate, and the need to actually break a sweat during a workout, is the future Midge is now, well, actually sweating about. Gone will be the days the mom-of-two only needs to grab her Lythe-line to eat cheesecake later than day, since she’ll now need to — gasp — grab a second husband instead. The humanity.
So, Midge tries to settle into her regular role as a gracious hostess and housewife, now light on the “wife” portion of the title, by having the entire family over for Yom Kippur make-up dinner. Joel’s mother Shirley (Caroline Aaron), who carries matzo meal in her purse, all but has a full-blown panic to make it happen. Although Midge swears the party isn’t “for that,” AKA reminding Joel what he would be missing by leaving, she still wears her stunning red dress, as Rose advises. A dress Joel definitely notices and I would immediately like access to in my size. Everyone attempts to make small talk over the philandering elephant in the room, but Abe cannot stop himself from glaring at his garbage son-in-law.
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The night quickly goes off the rails, starting with the moment Joel’s father Moishe (Kevin Pollak) recommends his daughter-in-law should start doing puzzles featuring basket of puppies designs. Since she’s an old maid like his widow sister and all. If you think this isn’t a low enough blow, Moishe soon reveals he’s the one who owns the Maisel's apartment, as opposed to Joel, and plans on selling it now that the “kids” are splitting up. Midge is floored because her husband lied to her, she’s looking at unexpected homelessness, has unwittingly been living “hand-to-mouth” for four years with only her father-in-law secretly keeping her family afloat, and Moishe made some offensive comments about her aimless, Bon-Bon-full single future.
As a screaming match erupts, Midge bails and heads to the Gaslight to do a set heavily inspired by Russian Literature and the Old Testament. It's much funnier, feminist, and expletive-filled than it sounds. That latter descriptor is what gets Midge arrested for the second time in a matter of about 48 hours. The cuff-worthy word? “Balls.” If that’s a crime every seventh grader in the New York City area might unknowingly have an arrest warrant out in their name. To close the episode, a much-more-sober-than-last-time Midge is escorted out of the Gaslight by two officers and waves of audience applause.
I think our heroine has finally stopped refusing the journey.
P.S. Joel lost Penny Pann (Holly Curran), the employee he’s sleeping with, as a secretary and got dragged by both his own father and Midge’s father. Abe also threatened to throw Walking Quarter Life Crisis out of the window of the Weissman apartment, which is higher up, because he wants to make sure Joel’s demise “sticks.” More of this, please.
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Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “Hurry before she hangs herself with the phone cord.”
Episode 3 — “Because You Left”
This episode ends with Joel finally coming crawling back to Midge after realizing he maybe shouldn’t have blown up their lives in a single evening over his bruised ego. While Joel wants to “give it another go,” winning the award for Least Romantic Reconciliation Attempt Of The 20th Century, Midge shoots him down because he left. Joel storms away because he’s an overgrown toddler, only missing those “little green pants” his elderly secretary keeps talking about. If you’re not paying attention during all this relationship drama, you might miss the fact Joel never says “I’m sorry” for abandoning his family and cheating on his wife.
While Abe looks absolutely terrified to hear his daughter said “No” to Joel, and, therefore “No” to security in the case of her father’s inevitable demise, the entire premise of “Left” is to prove Midge won’t need a safety net like Joel for long. Following last episode’s arrest, we find Midge sitting in jail, still wearing her Joel-impressing red sweetheart neckline dress. It is now impressing her fellow temporary cellmates, who immediately trust the fancily-dressed woman’s advice on how to remove blood stains from beloved clothing items. If anyone has house-making tips, it’s the woman sporting a gown even behind bars.
Again, Midge is sprung from jail by a comedy friend. This time, it’s Lenny Bruce, who lets Midge wear his jacket when he takes her to post-precinct dinner at a diner. I would like to now predict Lenny’s status as a married man will put a monkey wrench in their unavoidable romance. Remember, Midge now knows what it’s like to be a cheated-on wife.
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Though, for now, we can all just focus on the present, where Susie, fresh from the “evil web-spinning death” sorcery of talking to Rose on the phone, is stunned by the fact Midge already knows “the best comedian in the business,” Lenny. The Upper West Sider has only been in the comedy game for three minutes and she’s on a first-name basis with the funniest guy in New York; Abe has nothing to worry about. The mathematics professor’s daughter might be a comedy Who for now, but she is clearly not going to stay that way for long at this rate.
Speaking of Lenny, he invites Midge and a star-struck, stuttering Susie to an upcoming show he’s doing at a jazz club for a friend. Later in the episode, we see Midge took her new friend up on that offer and the pair share cigarettes and a table following Lenny’s set. We soon pan to the duo hanging out behind the club with the band, splitting a different kind of cigarette. You’ve got that right folks, UWS princess Midge Maisel is smoking Mary Jane in Greenwich Village with a bunch of musicians like a regular beatnik. Everyone is impressed by her hep behavior and rap sheet.
After two hits off a “marijuana joint,” Midge jumps at the chance for a stoned “activity.” Tonight’s activity is, you guessed, another amazing stand-up set to introduce the musicians. Still wearing her coat and purse, she makes multiple very good sex jokes — “Lindsey here whips out his… wallet. What did you think I was going to say? His penis? No. That was already out” — riffs on the ridiculous number of nonsense objects in her purse, and even brings up periods. However, her most interesting commentary is on whether or not she was supposed to be a mother, lamenting the fact mothering her two children is supposed to feel natural, but doesn’t exactly. Considering the fact Maisel takes place in 1958, these questions are even more revolutionary than they are today. Lenny is so amazed he basically becomes Dr. Phil.
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While Midge is killing it at the Vanguard with deep-cut feminist comedy, Susie is uptown barging into the hallowed grounds of the comedy boys club that is the famed Friars Club. The newly-minted manager ignores the snooty management to secure a seat at the table of a leading manager she knows, Harry Drake (David Paymer). Susie wants to know what the hell she should do with a talent as promising as Midge. Something tells us she’s not going to fail. I told you Midge doesn’t need a security (wet) blanket like Joel.
In fact, the only thing Midge needs from Joel is his money, which will change when she inevitably becomes the superstar we all know Amy Sherman-Palladino wants her to be. AS-P heralded Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) as a superstar in her field… and AYITL proved the younger Gilmore girl is a terrible journalist. At least Midge is visibly good at comedy. A big part of “Because You Left” is Midge’s adventure in court. She and Susie secure a lawyer and plan a winning defense without a drop of help from the Maisel-Weissman clan. Midge only needs to turn to her estranged husband when she protests her judge’s use of phrases like “little lady” and “moral health” at a time when real problems like Jim Crow laws are ravaging the country.
As we have already seen, when Midge is criticized with overbearing morality judgements from men in power she starts cursing. And, as we’ve seen, those men usually toss her in jail. The sexist judge Hackett (Joe Grifasi) follows suit, and has Midge arrested for contempt of court. She’s forced to ask Joel to fork over $200, no questions asked. Our favorite part-time jailbird leaves out the fact the tiny fortune is essentially for bail. With her fine paid, Midge heads back into court to apologize to Judge Hackett, who practically gloats over his win. Midge’s very public loss in this battle of wills is painful for her, but at least she can now pick up her son Ethan (Pascale twins Matteo and Nunzio).
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Midge’s aforementioned, and extremely suspicious, call to Joel is what brings him to her apartment building at the close of the episode in the first place. It’s a good thing she said no, since Lenny asks if he was “supposed to make a pass” at her following their jazz club caper. Midge doesn’t say no.
Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “Wait. Do you not know who you are?”
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Episode 4 — “The Disappointment Of The Dionne Quintuplets”
Before we get into Midge’s rollercoaster life, I’d like to look at one Missus Rose Weissman. Back in the pilot we got a look at Midge’s secret bedtime routine, where she went to sleep fully primped, removed all the smoke and mirrors while Joel slept, woke up with the first ray of dawn to re-primp, and then slipped back into bed with Joel none the wiser. The first time I saw that, I was stunned to consider the fact Midge has kept up her charade for 4 years.
Now, we know four years is nothing. Rose has been doing the same nightly dance for around three decades — complete with her own identical-to-MIdge’s seafoam blue headwrap — as we learn in this episode. Midge’s routine isn’t something she dreamed up, it’s something she learned. Among many things, Maisel is about the neuroses and body image issues mothers pass down to their daughters. Look at poor baby Esther, whose body parts Midge is already measuring and Rose is worrying won’t end up pretty. Let me reiterate, this is how they’re behaving about a baby. Imagine what happens when Esther is old enough to measure her own ankles. Heaven forbid they’re bigger than 8-inches.
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Considering we now know where a lot of Midge’s foundation comes from, the rest of “Disappointment” deals with the up-and-coming comedian’s new and necessary education.
We open the episode with Midge overseeing movers packing up her apartment with Joel, which is interspersed with flashbacks of the formerly happy couple’s life in their Riverside Drive palace. Their first night at home, the day they brought home baby Ethan, their double-date nights, and their celebrated New Year’s Eve parties. It all plays through Midge’s mind as her home is dismantled. The scene is backed by Barbra Streisand’s “Happy Days Are Here Again,” but wouldn’t “Memories” be much more apropos?
It’s doubtful Midge cares which Babs-sang musical accompaniment is most appropriate, since she is now a single mother of two officially living with her parents, in her pink-drenched childhood bedroom. Since Midge can’t hide out among the dog figurines and matinee idol photographs forever, she eventually heads to the Gaslight to figure out what’s next in her career. Although Susie, now boasting eight whole business cards, claims they’re not sure what kind of comic Midge is, the young woman has actually gotten it all figured out. She’s a “stalker” onstage who does stream of consciousness personal comedy that’s “tinged” by the political. Ever the planner, Midge immediately starts taking notes on what she has to work on besides material. While 30% of comics probably haven’t died from mic-related incidents, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Midge to learn the mechanics of her craft.
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This is what leads Midge to the Village’s Music Inn, where Susie introduces her to the underground party records downstairs. Party records were a sub-genre of comedy filled with raunchier material for Adults-Only, if you catch my drift. Midge buys one by Redd Foxx, a real-life comedian like many of the celebrities mentioned throughout Maisel, including Lenny Bruce. Speaking of real-life comedians, Midge and Abe debate whether some pretty boy named Senator Kennedy or a fellow who goes by Richard Milhous Nixon should run for president. Abe hates both ideas. Please, no one tell him the next 15 years of American history.
Speaking of politics, Midge happens upon a women’s-mostly protest in Washington Square Park being held over the city’s attempt to put a car lane into the scenic park. It’s lead by the real-life Greenwich Village activist Jane Jacobs (Alison Smith) who invites anyone in the crowd to speak at the rally. Although Midge admittedly knows nothing about the issues at hand, Jane picks our heroine out of the crowd to share her story. For at least the fifth time in four episodes, Midge does a perfect impromptu set. It touches on how the patriarchy is trying to keep women down with shoe advertisements, and the denizens of the village love it. A Black woman, who’s actually politically involved and passionate about Jane’s work, looks on, applauding rich, privileged Midge.
Now that Midge is politically activated, she heads to some comedy clubs with Susie to learn how the veteran stand-up grind looks up close. She sees a truly off-the-wall ventriloquist (Ambrose Martos) who claims his dummy committed suicide backstage. Up next is a mainstream comic named Howard Fawn (Aaron Serotsky) who is so mainstream he swears Midge can’t be at his show to take notes for herself, or, even, steal his show for herself. “Are you kidding me?” Howard asks Midge, convinced an L.A. competitor sent her. “You can’t do my act.” He’s right. As Midge shoots back, she can do the set better, “and in heels!”
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Not one to belabor a point, Susie drags Midge out of the club and straight to the Copacabana. While Susie has never walked the nightclub’s famed gilded halls, Midge went to the spot with Joel for their anniversary last year. Susie is unenthused. Although Midge has already been to two other comedy clubs this evening, the very fancy Copa is the first place she can, and does, imagine herself performing one day, white dress, opera-length gloves, spotlight and all. Now that Midge has properly conjured a dream for herself, she and Susie can retire for a late-night snack of 25-cent fries, 25-cent hot dogs, and something very closely resembling a conversation about friendship for free.
It’s a good thing Midge has a new friend, because her education in this episode extends far beyond the comedy ropes. She also finds out manchild Joel is even worse than she realized. Despite all of Joel’s cries for “more” out of life than all of their Upper West Side domesticity, the now-single guy has moved… to the Upper West Side? After crashing on the Maisel’s couple friends’ couch for a while, Joel has rented a one-bedroom apartment about 10 blocks below their home, in a building that looks identical to theirs. The only real difference here is that Joel has swapped out Midge for his secretary mistress Penny Pan, who’s happy to play house. The actual Mrs. Maisel, sorry, Penny, is right to point out Joel is simply living “the Methodist version” of their marriage.
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At this point, can anyone trust Joel and all of his porcelain ducks not to let Penny Pan baptize Ethan while Midge is gone?
Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “The Dionne Quintuplets would be very disappointed in you right now, [Midge].”
No wonder Midge ends the episode vowing to get a job.
Episode 5 — “Doink”
MIriam Maisel works fast. In the last episode, the former housewife said she needed to get a job. This episode starts with her doing just that, by striding into real-life retro department store B. Altman and demanding a position as an elevator operator. Since every single person we’ve seen with that job description in an old white, presumably working-class man, the manager of B. Altman very politely turns Midge down. But, her can-do attitude and years of makeup tutelage under Rose’s critical eye lands the single young woman a job at the store’s cosmetics counter.
Everyone reacts to Midge’s new job like it’s a harbinger of the apocalypse. Abe asks if she understand this means she has to go five days a week, even when it’s raining, needs to know how to get there, by multiple routes, and needs a bank account, checkings and savings. As a fully functioning adult with a working brain, Midge assures her father she’s well-aware of what having a job means. It seems Abe doesn’t believe his daughter, since he shows up at B. Altman just to see Midge, who is actually spectacular at her job, working in the wild.
Rose is doing no better and immediately storms out of the room the moment she finds out her married daughter is doing such a terrible thing as working. From there on out, Rose is passive-aggressively distant about the entire obviously appalling situation. The only person Rose actually speaks to about her anger is Joel when he shows up to drop off little Ethan. “Your wife is working,” she says with the gravity of the sentence, “Your wife is selling organs on Craigslist.”
But, “Doink” isn’t truly about Midge’s success as a “counter girl.” No, it’s about her understandable failure as a comedian, which is something all people in the biz are forced to deal with. While it is great to see someone as charming as Midge succeed, it was becoming increasingly unbelievable, and a tad irritating, to never struggle with an industry as famously challenging as comedy. She has natural talent, but no one can do five completely unplanned, untested gigs to rapturous applause. There’s a reason every comedienne’s memoir I’ve ever read stresses how hard comedy is, not how they wound up with their own Netflix special directly after wandering onto a stage during an emotional tailspin. Maisel is a perfectly airy confection of a show, but it’s not sci-fi.
So, we arrive at Midge’s first bomb of a set. It is bad. It is so bad, I had to fast forward through it, because her comedic flailing makes me physically uneasy. I am someone who suffers from the opposite of schadenfreude. Once Midge is done repeatedly saying “Negro,” stumbling through awkward office stories, and, finally being left in the literal dark onstage, she wobbles offstage, shaken. As any good AS-P heroine would do, Midge doesn’t see how her own actions — or non-actions, like skipping any form of prep — led to the fiasco. Instead, she blames the mic, which worked by the way, and the audience.
For a moment, both Midge and I question if she’s only good onstage “drunk or stoned,” but then I remember the Washington Square Park mini-set. She was great then and she was also stone cold sober. We’re merely witnessing what happens when beginner's luck runs out and the hard work, the uncomfortable work, has to begin. Still, Midge tries to tell Susie bombing isn’t “part of her process.” What the comedian isn’t dealing with is the fact she’s yet to hone any kind of process past walking up to a mic and opening her mouth.
Unfortunately, Midge tries to expand her process by hiring a joke writer, whom she meets for a spontaneous Jewish feast at the Stage Diner. The moment our heroine meets Heb Smith (Wallace Shawn), I’m terrified he’s going to steal Midge’s very good joke notes and hand them all over to someone more famous than she. My anxiety levels rose even more when she gives Herb her beloved joke notebook and agrees to pay him $15 to write her material. As a naturally suspicious New Yorker, this has scam written all over it.
Yet, in a twist I didn’t see coming, Herb isn’t a joke-stealer. He’s simply an awful joke writer. He sends Midge’s notebook back to her, safe and sound, and along with it, an implausibly humongous stack of notecards. Herb tells her to read off of the cards during her set, like that’s something people do. With such terrible advice, Midge should have immediately known something was wrong. If comedy-by-way-of-high-school-geography-report wasn’t enough of a red flag, there’s the alarming reveal Herb also describes a regular old deli pickle as funny. Herb has a terrible sense of humor.
Midge learns this unquestionable truth when she reads the cards during her next set at the Gaslight and realizes they’re filled with “jokes” that can’t apply to her — at 26 she can’t have a middle school-aged child — or simply aren’t jokes; some cards are just statements. And, so, Midge bombs for the second time in a row. This time Midge blames Susie, rather than the fact she herself turned to “the Stage Deli Bottom-Feeder,” Herb, and didn’t even glance at his notes before reading them to an entire room of people. Fed up with failure, Midge screams at Susie she “can’t do this!” yet again. It is exhausting to watch Midge repeatedly raise Susie’s hopes and then dash them without a second thought.
Still, the episode closes by proving Midge can’t avoid the spotlight for long. She visits a work friend’s house party and starts monologuing about four-point-three seconds after walking through the door. Susie is far less smiley alone in her apartment, staring at the business phone she purchased to manage Midge. It’s the same phone Susie claimed she never bought during her supposedly partnership-ending argument with Midge.
Joel is also sad both his parents hate Penny Pan — “That is a girl you have on the side, Joel,” Moishe explains — and his friends won’t hang out with him over the secretary. It’s so bad, Midge and her husband’s respective, and married, best friends Imogene (Bailey De Young) and Archie Cleary (Joel Johnstone) won’t even go see The Music Man with Joel. That’s like turning down free Hamilton tickets. No one feels bad for this guy, right?
Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “So, I’m a guinea pig?”
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon
Episode 6 — “Mrs. X At The Gaslight”
A better title for this episode would be, “Susie Saves Midge From Improv.” Improv is great, improv has given us some of modern day’s greatest comics, but, no one wants a surprise improv show in the middle of a party. People want a party in the middle of a party. Yet, “Mrs. X” opens the same way “Doink” closes, with Midge doing a pressure-free psuedo set at a party of work friends. Everyone is so enraptured by the comedian’s story of her wildly handsome high school crush that got away, and supposedly murdered his wife as an adult and drove around with her disembodied skull, one poor guy looking for onion dip is shushed into silence.
This is all well and good, it’s nice to see Midge actually honing her material in an inviting space, but then the improve starts. A man, eventually identified as Randall (Nate Corddry), a cousin of Midge’s work friend Viv (Lilli Stein), literally Nazi marches onto screen with a Hitler mustache drawn on. He starts a bit as der Führer in 1958 New York, trying, and failing, to hide his fascist identity. A caught-off-guard Midge goes along with it as his smiling straight (wo)man. Everyone laughs along, but we all know how shockingly uncomfortable the act would be in 2017. Now imagine the lead balloon it would be actually in ‘58, a mere 13 years after the end of World War II. We soon find out Randall is a working comedian with a manager, an agent, downtown gigs, and a functioning resume.
Another party drags Midge back into Randall’s orbit when Viv is forced to throw her parents — and, therefore, Randall’s aunt and uncle — an anniversary party. Midge is invited as moral support and finds out about the party just as Susie strides into B. Altman to reconcile.The reunion is wordless as you would expect, since Susie isn’t exactly Feelings Girl. Once they’re both done barely saying “I’m sorry,” Midge asks a dubious Susie to come to the party too.
At the bash, Susie is far more interested in lobster and clams than seeing Midge perform the “party circuit.” On the other hand, Midge is totally up for another “Yes, and…” game with Randall. This time it’s the pair pretending to look through a window at their neighbors. The bit is not nearly as funny as Midge riffing on what men really want for their fiftieth wedding anniversary; the men in the room seem to agree seeing “another woman’s boobs” would be a good place to start. It’s likely anything, though, would have been better than Midge and Randall’s proto-improv, since it’s mostly about cats, toupees, and Midge winkingly saying, “I’m incorrigible!” Susie is right to side-eye her genuinely talented friend, who’s now playing second fiddle to a mediocre man.
Randall’s abject basicness leads to one of Susie’s best scenes in all of Maisel. After the unrequested improv of Viv’s party, Randall shows up to Midge’s job to ask her to lunch. The makeup expert assumes it’s a spur-of-the-moment thing, but, in reality, Randall is springing a business meeting on Midge. Randall’s agent Lew Fogelman (Michael Nathanson) is there and he wants to market Midge and her new friend as an improv comedy duo like real-life pair Nichols and May. Susie stops Midge from being lured into a future as Randall’s “cute, dizzy broad” sidekick by breaking into Lew’s office when he’s out to lunch. Sliding out from behind his desk, Susie promises to destroy Lew and his agency, William Morris, if he ever goes near Midge again.
By the end of the episode, the Midge and Susie partnership is officially back on. They’re even going to sign some paperwork tomorrow to make this entire enterprise legit. Before this happy ending though, there has to be some tears. Susie chews Midge out, telling her she needs to “grow the fuck up, right now.” Susie’s intensity brings Midge to sobs as she admits every time she tries to do like Beyoncé and join the ranks of “Independent Women,” things just get more difficult. “Every time I think I can breathe again, I can’t,” she says, her face turning actual red.
Midge admits the latest obstacle to trip her up was running into Joel “with her” at Ruby Foo’s Asian restaurant during a celebratory family dinner for Abe, who finally got his dream job at Bell Labs. It’s the kind of dinner Joel should be sitting with the Weissmans for, but, instead, he was obliviously eating in the corner with Penny. When the entire Weissman clan exits the restaurant over Joel’s caustic presence, he follows Midge outside to apologize for accidentally ruining Abe’s big night. Joel holds his wife’s hand for too long, realizing she’s taken off her wedding ring. He’s emotionally wounded over the jewelry-based betrayal; she’s emotionally wounded over the fact her husband cheated on her.
Although Midge is clearly bewildered by this run-in, at least it’s good news for Rose, who is still seeing a psychic in hopes the fates will save her daughter’s marriage. As Rose tells Midge, Joel checked his watch twice while out to dinner with “that woman.” Even worse, he looks done with the relationship in the car after seeing Midge and makes up an obvious lie just to avoid having to be in the apartment with Penny.
With all of this positive forward movement across the Maisel board, we know there also has to be a few thunderclouds looming as we head into the final episodes, right? Chekov’s guns arrive in the form of a conversation between Abe and his Bell Labs recruiter and an episode-ending twist. In the former, Abe learns of his daughter’s two secret arrests and the fact she pled guilty to the charges. In the latter scene, it’s revealed the Music Inn employees from episode 4 have the only recording of Midge’s first, drunken, set, where she rails against Joel. Now the only question is, who’s going to hear it?
P.S. I miss Lenny Bruce.
Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “It’d be better if Joel had died, then she’d be a widow. At least there’s dignity in that.”
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
Episode 7 — “Put That On Your Plate!”
Here I was, thinking the immediate monkey wrench in Midge’s life would be the fact she’s hiding a completely secret life – which includes arrests and a very public career – from her loved ones. Yet, I was wrong. The massive dilemma that Midge and Susie end up facing is the former’s, er, “spontaneity,” as the latter would put it. That is what what makes Midge an enemy of both New York’s leading woman comedian and that star’s all-powerful comedy manager.
So, let’s figure out what led Midge to commit comedy career immolation before she even had much of a comedy career to immolate.
We enter the episode with Midge walking in on her parents in a very retro, awkward situation: The duo is pushing their usually separate twin beds back together following Abe’s celebratory evening. Obviously, Midge is witnessing Abe and Rose’s post-sex routine, even though the Weissmans are mumbling something about Zelda The Housekeeper (Matilda Szydagis) being at fault. Like any good comic, Midge takes the uncomfortable moment and turns it into comedy. Then, in a rarity for television, we actually see Midge workshop the joke over multiple gigs. The story goes from a basic one about growing up thinking her parents’ night fumbling was a sign of ghosts, to a joke about Child Midge not knowing what an appropriate ghost sound was. While every other kid was going, “OoOoOh,” she was moaning. Now that is commentary that kills.
Midge applies the same treatment to a little boy on the subway who unknowingly asked about a strange man’s barely concealed erection. That creepy observation turns into a great personal joke about how Midge avoids her own young son’s hard-to-answer questions about Joel’s absence. And, just like that, Midge has worked her way to a genuinely great tight 10 like a true working comedian. Hell, with the necessary pauses for big laughs, she has a tight 11. This is deserving of a celebratory dinner, and, hopefully, Joel isn’t accidentally lurking in some nearby corner with Penny Pan. Just kidding, that’s impossible since Joel broke up with Penny Who Can’t Use A Mechanical Pencil Sharpener.
Like Midge, Joel is now sleeping in his childhood bedroom. In his case, the canine-related tchotchkes have been traded in for WWII memorabilia and his mom Shirley acting as the “Mommy Rooster.” This is all as mortifying as it sounds, and then made exponentially worse when Shirley asks for Joel’s “poo-poo undies” for laundering and says she found all the adult magazines he hid underneath his bed as a teen. She threw them all out.
This parade of humiliation leads Joel to finally act like a man with an entire family he promised to support, as was the 1950s, crippling masculinity way. At work, Joel comes up with an actually intelligent idea for saving his company, Tri-Borough Plastics, a name I hadn’t seen until this episode. Joel recommends the plastics corporation should also buy a lab to make their materials in-house and maybe even the lab that would make the basic chemicals. Finally, someone has outgrown his metaphorical little green toddler pants.
After this career breakthrough, Joel heads to Abe’s office to inform his estranged father-in-law he’s set for a big promotion and that means he’ll be able to provide Midge and their children with a comfortable life. That means a three-bedroom apartment, private school for both kids, and vacations. Joel seems resigned to going without while his family lives the high life since Midge doesn’t want him back. Even if that promotion doesn’t come through, Joel promises to leave his job to work for his father as a way to make the necessary salary. This is the man Midge thought she was married to, but never really was.
Although the men in her life are making big choices for Midge, she personally has no idea. So, she and Susie go about their business, securing a prospective big gig. The job is opening up for Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) a fictional comedy legend “from Queens.” Sophie’s standup is terrible — her catchphrase is the episode’s title, “Put that on your plate!” — but the audience consistently cracks up at her set. I wonder if 1950s comedy nerds in the Maisel world feel about Sophie the way everyone feels about The Big Bang Theory today.
Despite Sophie’s hackery, Midge is awed when she meets the comic following her show. Then, Midge is more-than-awed when she visits Sophie’s home later that week. The thing is, it’s wrong to call Sophie’s NYC abode a simple “home.” It’s more like a castle or a small-to-medium principality. Sophie doesn’t merely have a doorman. She has a doorman and an entire stable of servants steaming and ironing clothing in what appears to be a weird locked room. She has her afternoon tea treats, which she definitely doesn’t eat, flown in from Europe. She isn’t at all Sowfee Frum Qweens, as she portrays herself. As the real, proper, and fat suit-free Sophie reveals, she created her fortune-making character after attending Yale Drama School.
As a woman who created a character to succeed in the industry, Sophie tells Midge to do the same. “Darling look at you,” Sophie says. “Really, men don’t want to laugh at you. They want to fuck you.” To get around that snag, Midge apparently needs to shroud herself in a wacky persona. This is the second time an older person has told Midge a beautiful women can’t be taken seriously (the other example was with Abe during the JFK chat). It’s clear Sophie truly believes her advice, even though it’s actually very offensive.
This is how Midge ends up setting her career on fire in front of a room full of people. With Sophie’s stamp of approval, Midge’s next task is performing her tight 11 at the Gaslight for manager Harry from earlier this season, who reps the older woman. This single gig is all that’s standing between Midge and what could be her big break, opening for a veritable legend. Midge starts off doing her well-crafted act, but then veers off into an off-the-cuff rebuke of Sophie and her sexist so-called advice. “Why do women have to pretend to be something they’re not?” Midge asks while totally outing the reality wealthy Sophie’s entire fake character is just that, a character.
The audience laps up Midge’s pro-woman screed, but Harry is deeply offended. He storms out of the Gaslight, swearing Susie and Midge are “dead in this town.” I assume Midge wishes her reckoning was now as painless as her entire family finding out about that indecent exposure conviction.
Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “Miriam, you are not going out with this man.”
Episode 8 — “Thank You and Good Night”
Welcome to the end of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, television friends. It’s been a long road of really great dresses, good comedy, and one terrible man. Speaking of one terrible man, Midge and Joel have finally reconciled. By reconciled I mean “had sex again,” since their relationship is actually now more complex than it ever was before.
Why is that? Because Joel stumbles upon the Maisel’s gun that is the Music Inn recording of Midge’s first performance. And, later, a drunk Joel stumbles into the Gaslight to see his wife’s stellar season-closer of a stand-up routine. Midge Maisel is at the top of her game, and her husband couldn’t be more in his feelings over it. So, let’s figure out how we end up with a slurring Joel lurching down MacDougal Street and a triumphant Midge closing her set by seizing her own identity, the titular “Mrs. Maisel.”
The finale’s cold open shows us Midge and Susie drowning their sorrows following that bridge-burning, blackballing gig in front of Harry. The next morning, the hungover ladies try to create a plan to salvage their careers. This is a tall order since they can barely fashion a plan to avoid hangover puking, let alone a plot for comedy domination. Our heroines clearly have a tough road ahead of them, as multiple newspapers run cover page stories on what “Amanda Gleason” said about national treasure Sophie Lennon, who, you’ll remember, is an actual beloved celebrity.
This is why newspapers have pictures of “Amanda’s” head on a plate with a fork in it. Every single publication agrees the up-and-comer done. One journalist even questions whether Sophie will sue her would-be “acolyte” for slander. Susie is seriously regretting the fact she invited members of the New York City press to Midge’s show before it became clear the evening’s theme was “seppuku night at the Gaslight.”
Thankfully for Midge, she doesn’t have the time to wallow in self pity since it’s also the day of Ethan’s fourth birthday party, which he’s sharing with Imogene and Archie Cleary’s daughter Estelle. Imogene is already planning the kids’ future wedding, but Joel has another marriage on his mind — his own. After three months apart, we can finally glimpse Midge and her husband’s supposed chemistry. He immediately realizes she’s scarfing down mac and cheese due to a hangover and the pair effortlessly shares a plate of the carbs. That way, Midge won’t look so suspicious massacring the food herself. Eventually, the sorta-exes also share a flask on the merry-go-round while finally talking divorce (in the last episode, Abe brought a surprise divorce lawyer to dinner, sparking this current conversation). Joel obviously doesn’t want to officially split up, but understands he messed up on a near-historic level.
Even with all the talk of breaking up, the Maisels end up making out in Abe and Rose’s kitchen after the party. There was no other way this story could have gone once they started splitting beers, lingering on the hand-holding, and co-parenting like actual humans who share a family. Joel begs Midge not to stop things and they move to her bedroom, where Midge reveals a major secret… she used to undo every other hook on her bra before sex. The entire time they were together. During a post-sex chat, Midge explains she also used to powder the back marks left by said brassiere to make them less alarming for Joel. Someone please name one facet of Midge’s pre-separation life that wasn’t about making her husband’s life easier. Oh, there were none? Okay, cool.
In a wonderful moment in the morning, another one of Midge’s society-forced charades ends when she wakes up disheveled in the way average people look first-thing in the morning. She forgot to do the routine, everyone. Joel notices, asking as he escapes the Weissman household through his wife’s bedroom window like a horny teenager, “Did you always look like this in the morning?” No, Joel, she didn’t.
With Joel gone, Midge can focus on comedy. Later that night, she heads to a “shit gig” at cabaret club to put a jolt into career, but the apparently-omniscient Harry forces management to replace her. “Amanda” is even persona non grata at her own homebase of the Gaslight, as Harry calls the true owner Eddie (Ric Stoneback) and threatens to ruin his business. Of course Eddie chooses money over some woman he’s never heard of with a forgettable name.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Susie asks the biggest name she knows for aide. Thankfully for me, that means Lenny Bruce is back. Rejoice! Although the comic has never heard of “Amanda Gleason,” he does know Midge’s face when he sees it. Even when her likeness is splashed across the The Post, skewered by an actual fork. This is how Leny ends up doing a free Gaslight show for Midge as an effort in rebranding. “Amanda” might be blackballed but who’s heard of Mrs. Maisel? The answer is currently no one, yet that won’t be true for long. Midge slays in a stunning black dress and pearls.
As Midge jokes about very specific details of her night with Joel, he is secretly hiding behind a pillar, drunk and jealously witnessing all the laughs his wife is getting. He ends up at the Gaslight amid an odd series of events: Joel tries to revive his stand-up career thinking that’s what Midge wants, heads to Music Inn after Midge talks about it, overhears her infamous record, and is so devastated by her performance he inexplicably quits his job. During Midge’s set, he slurs at Susie in the back that she’s “ruining” his life by supporting his wife’s dream. It’s all very weird and Susie rightly points out how selfish Joel is.
This is true because even when Joel noted during his post-sex heart-to-heart with Midge he never apologized for abandoning her, he still doesn’t apologize. If you didn’t notice this, go back and look at the scene.
Joel ends the season by following a rude stranger out of the Gaslight after the man heckled Midge, claiming she wasn’t funny and a “dumb bitch.” Joel beats the hell out if him while screaming Midge is “good!” at comedy as a way to defend his wife’s honor.
But, Joel’s bizarre meltdown isn’t the real point of the finale. Rather it’s that Midge has officially stepped into her own, ending her wonderful set by announcing, “That’s it for me, my name is Mrs. Maisel!” That’s an identifier Midge avoided all season and will definitely explore what that means for her career in the already-announced season 2. She’s no longer hiding behind her comedy. Rather, this is who Midge is and it doesn’t matter who associates the UWS housewife with raunchy sex stories, feminist arguments, the ridiculousness of Penny Pan, and very, very good gowns.
Thank you, and good night!
Rose Maisel’s most Emily Gilmore-esque line: “That dress needs pearls.”
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