Last night, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel won 8 Emmy Awards including Best Comedy Series. A few weeks ago my wife and I decided to start watching the Amazon Prime series. I had read that the show was critically acclaimed and that it had previously won several awards so as it nears the premiere of Season 2, I decided to take it out for a test drive.
I am very critical of television series, especially those of the network 22 episode formulaic variety which tend to lean toward the absurd after a few seasons in order to keep the audience engaged. However, the 8–10 episode Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Showtime, Stars and Hulu produced shows are more constrained in that they limit the number of episodes but at the same time are free from certain types of network and commercial restrictions.
Success to me is when I get to the end and I’m still longing for more.
Part of my criticism is from the perspective of a writer. I am just as much a fan of the big ideas of plot and characters as I am of process and character development. For me, storytelling is about managing coincidences and collisions. The plot or the premise is the general direction that the characters take through time, space and place to some endpoint. The details of that journey and the coincidences and collisions that take place along the way are where the magic of storytelling happens for me.
Many shows either take shortcuts or don’t value the development of the coincidences and collisions needed to get the characters to a certain time, space or place to facilitate the movement of the overall storyline. This often leaves the audience scratching their heads as they suspend disbelief beyond a reasonable doubt about how the characters got from point A to point B.
I must say that Mrs. Maisel is very well written. They do a very good job of “in specialibus generalia quaerimus”, a Latin phrase meaning “to seek the general in the specifics. The show is not quite colloquial, but it is steeped in a specific culture. However, it still relatable beyond the shows Jewish fisheye lens.
The general premise of the show which is set in the 1950’s in Manhattan, is that a young newly married woman somehow ends up pursuing a career as a stand up comedian. The opening scene of the pilot episode shows the newly minted Mrs. Maisel at a microphone at her wedding reception giving a monologue to all of her guests. She is quick witted and very charming which automatically allows the audience to see that she is a natural for where she is invariably headed.
What is revealed later in the episode is that her husband is an aspiring comedian who moonlights at a Greenwich Village basement bar that has a 1950’s version of open mic night.
He works in midtown he can never get down there in time to sign up for a decent time slot so he solicits the assistance of his wife to bribe the club manager with culinary currency.
Mrs. Maisel or Midge, makes a brisket and puts it in her pyrex container and comes to the club and immediately seeks out the manager to move her husband up the batting order.
This happens every time that he comes to the club with him. On one such occasion he bombs on stage and comes to the realization that not only is this comedy thing not going to work out, but he also confesses out loud to Midge that he is in the throes of an affair and their marriage is not going to work out either. He packs his things in her suitcase and leaves her.
Disappointed and dismayed, Midge takes to drinking. She absconds the wine from the dining room table in their formal dining room that had already been set for the following days Yom Kippur dinner. Standing in the kitchen in her nightgown, more than halfway through the bottle, Midge comes to the realization that she has to prepare dinner for over 20 people coming over the next day. She is leaning on the counter next to an empty space where the Pyrex dish usually lives.
With her inebriated epiphany in tow, Midge dons a dressy robe over her night gown and heads downtown via the subway. When she arrives to the club out of sorts and not in complete control of her faculties she demands the return of her Pyrex dish from the first employee that she encounters. The poor women has no idea what Midge is speaking of so she saunters off to see if she can make heads or tails of her request.
Moments later Midge finds herself onstage pouring her drunken heart out to a late night crowd about her series of unfortunate events. The crowd loves her. She is a natural. The booze gets the best of her and she bares her boobs and the cops bust in and haul her off to jail. A star is born!
The Pyrex dish was the object that was used to serve her husband’s aspiring career as a comic, even though it was doomed before it even started. It was also the object that facilitated the serving of Midge’s destiny on a silver platter.
That’s great symbolism and writing.