What Makes The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Emmy Wins So Monumental

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.
Well, there's a new comedy star in town, and its name is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. While series like Atlanta, Barry, and Glow had quite a bit of buzz going into Emmys night, Amazon Video’s period piece newbie, about a wealthy 1950s housewife named Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) turning to stand-up comedy after her husband’s marriage-ending affair, performed an admirable coup. The Amy Sherman-Palladino-created series took home the coveted Outstanding Comedy award, along with the comedy statues for writing, directing, lead actress (congrats, Rachel Brosnahan!), and supporting actress (congrats, Alex Borstein!). Maisel also won two awards at the Creative Arts Emmys earlier this month: Outstanding Editing and Casting in the comedy race.
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Maisel, a series about a 26-year-old mom finding herself, and unapologetically wearing gorgeous 1950s gowns and recommending lipsticks along the way, has literally been named our best comedy right now; it has the historic stack of Emmys to prove it. Although this decade has arguably been one of women-led comedies, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s near Emmys streak suggests we’ve officially entered a new era of television.
In the Emmys' 70-year history, we’ve learned comedies about young women can certainly get recognition — they simply can’t also be light and fluffy à la Maisel. The Mary Tyler Moore show was groundbreaking in the '70s, giving television one of its first-ever true depictions of a single and thriving working woman, so it was invited to the Emmys party. It even made writer Treva Silverman one of the first women to ever win the comedy writing Emmy. Audiences didn’t get another series that both won major Emmys gold and was about a woman under 40 until Ally McBeal’s 1999 win for Outstanding Comedy, followed by Sex And The City’s win two years later. Both series, like Mary Tyler Moore before it, changed the way we looked as single women, sex, and relationships forever. They were unprecedented. And they were all created by men.
The fourth and only other comedy to join these ranks before Maisel is Tina Fey’s 30 Rock. The iconic NBC comedy was purposefully anti-fluff. The entire gag was how unfeminine Liz Lemon (Fey) could be in an industry that prizes blonde-haired fembots. The TV writer was cerebral, unexcited by sex 98% of the time, and far more interested in working on her night cheese than almost anything else. Neither 30 Rock’s far lighter network sibling Parks & Recreation (carried by Amy Poehler), nor its weirder Tina Fey-created soul sister Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (where Ellie Kemper and Jane Krakowski own the show), ever won Outstanding Comedy, or even a writing or directing statue.
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Series about women that lack any kind of corresponding dark edge or revolutionary narrative have traditionally been written off as weightless confections not worthy of serious awards show consideration. While the middling Everybody Loves Raymond, about a guy and his family, has two Outstanding Emmy statues, series like The Mindy Project, Jane The Virgin, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend never received nominations. One of the greatest casualties of this kind of television prejudice just so happens to be Amy Sherman-Palladino’s beloved, unabashedly fun and feminine WB saga, Gilmore Girls. The youthful mother-daughter series, which premiered in 2000, helped usher in the current era of women-led dramedies that includes everything from Orange Is The New Black to Glow.
But, during Gilmore's eight-year run, the fast-talking, coffee-slurping, women-powered series only received one Emmy nomination: Outstanding Makeup. Makeup. For a series that, like fellow famously wordy early aughts show The West Wing, would have monologues and chunks of dialogue that went on for pages.
The West Wing received 87 Emmy wins for is chatty ways and 227 total nominations. Gilmore Girls got that sole makeup nod — and lost. Although Sherman-Palladino was never recognised for her tireless work on a sunny series like Gilmore Girls, it’s difficult to imagine the WB dramedy wouldn’t even net a glancing writing nod in the day and age of the Marvelous Midge Maisel.
That is what makes Maisel so special — it is a confection, it is sunny, it is young, it didn't have the burden of changing the world, and it still went home with a truckload of Emmys. Yes, the series delves into some dark places — after heroine Midge's marriage crumbles, her first forays into standup are more like “public breakdowns” than crafted comedy, her portrayer told Refinery29 last November — it never actually becomes dark.
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Rather, it’s a sumptuous series filled with classic Amy Sherman-Palladino staccato dialogue that will make you smile. The series has a rom-com heart with its exploration of Midge and her estranged husband Joel’s (Michael Zegen) marriage. Even the conceit of the series, a woman needs to accept a strings-attached offer from her wealthy, judgmental parents after life throws her a curveball, is pulled straight out of the Gilmore Girls playbook. The only difference here is, Midge and manager-turned-BFF Susie Myerson (Emmy-winner Alex Borstein), are the true love story of this tale, rather than the mother-daughter relationship of Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham). Finally, such lovable antics have been deemed award-worthy rather than labeled as eye roll-worthy drivel and forgotten.
As star Rachel Brosnahan pointed out to Refinery29 following the premiere of her series, Maisel's ability to keep things breezy while remaining a prestigious series is one of its greatest strengths. “This show has an optimistic view of the world,” she said over the phone.
“I think hopefully it highlights … some of the battles [women are] still fighting today both inside and outside of comedy, it makes you think, and it also makes you feel hopeful about the future.”
Maisel’s ability to remain light while being thoughtful may be the reason the comedy dominated in its first awards show. “It’s a show filled with a lot of joy,” Brosnahan continued. “The world is so terrible right now in so many different ways. That this show is one piece of what we need, it’s certainly something I’m craving.”
It’s something apparently a lot of people in the Television Academy were also craving. And with Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 2 set to premiere this fall, we’ll see if voters continue to crave it with a hunger worthy of yet another year of Emmys domination in 2019.
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