I am not one of those people who bask in togetherness, twinkle lights, and delicious feasts from November-December. Unfortunately, my holiday season isn't like a Nancy Meyers movie. Instead of eating canapés in beautiful houses and engaging in sparkling conversation, I get to hang out with racist relatives I have nothing in common with and consume sad, inedible food. I miss the days of my youth when I could sit on the couch and read a book without offending anyone. As a kid, I got away with this behavior because everyone chalked it up to quirky precociousness. If I did it now, they would think I'm an asshole. Although... I'm pretty sure they already think I'm an asshole, so maybe I should stop trying to be polite and give it a shot.
Picture this scene from "Moonrise Kingdom," but far less picturesque.
This Thanksgiving, however, I managed to avoid obligatory family torture! My boyfriend was on a 24-hour call the day before, but had Thanksgiving Day off, and I didn't want to leave him alone in Ann Arbor to celebrate the holiday with our cats (at least, this is the excuse I gave people). So instead of driving home to the Pittsburgh area on Wednesday, I curled up on my couch and watched three episodes of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." Over the next two weeks, I finished the rest.
At a time when my depression usually kicks into full gear, this show is exactly what I needed. It's fast-paced, fun, sharp, and audacious. It inspired me to wet set my hair! (I tried last week and unfortunately, it did not turn out like Midge's.) It's feel-good television that is expertly executed and not at all schlocky. It isn't perfect, but it's immensely enjoyable if you suspend your disbelief.
I wish I had the time to write about every episode (and maybe I will at some point), but for now, I leave you with my overarching thoughts about Season 1.
Like a cracked out, 1950's, NYC "Gilmore Girls" with a less eccentric group of townies, dirtier jokes, and higher production value. If you like Amy Sherman-Palladino's vision and writing, you'll like this show. Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is potentially even more self-absorbed and headstrong than Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), but I also find her infinitely more likable. Women in the 1950s needed to fight tooth and nail for their autonomy and even harder for their passions, so I give Midge a free pass on many of her selfish character traits.
Best time to watch:
On the couch with a glass of wine, Chinese takeout, and a fluffy blanket. If you're lucky enough to live close to your mom or childhood bff, you should strongly consider watching with them, too. My mom has only seen the first episode, so I'll probably re-watch the rest of Season 1 with her when I go home for Christmas this week.
Worst time to watch:
Do NOT watch with your boyfriend, especially if he's an asshole who says things like, "no one talks like this in real life," or "this show isn't funny." As you may know, my boyfriend routinely rags on "Gilmore Girls," which is usually cute but sometimes irritates me. I watched this show alone because I suspected he would ruin it for me with his inane commentary. He overhead a few snippets of episode four and my fears were confirmed, so I made him gtfo.
I also don't recommend binge watching this. There are only eight episodes and it's so good that you will be heartbroken when it ends. The fast pacing and relatively formulaic plot also start to get annoying if you watch more than two episodes in a row. Limit yourself to one or two episodes per day for maximum satisfaction.
Where to watch:
Midge Maisel is a twenty-six-year-old 1950s housewife, living on NYC's Upper West Side with her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) and two children. Joel has an office job by day, but tries his hand at stand up comedy at the West Village Gaslight by night. He's a stiff, stale, awkward comic, but Midge is endlessly supportive and wonderful, helping him with his sets and making brisket to bribe the bookers into giving him better time slots. When Midge finds out that Joel is having an affair with his secretary (and stealing his comedy act from Bob Newhart), she drinks a bottle of kosher wine, marches down to the Gaslight in her nightgown, and does a ballsy set that ends with her arrest. And just like that, a star is fucking born.
Sherman-Palladino universe crossover:
- Alex Borstein - Drella and Miss Celine in "Gilmore Girls," Sweetie Cramer in "Bunheads," and Susie Meyerson in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
- Bailey De Young - Ginny from "Bunheads," Heidi from "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life," and Imogene in "MMM"
- Jane Lynch - a nurse in Season 1 of "GG" and Sophie Lennon in "MMM"
- Sam Phillips - composed the score for "GG," "AYitL," "Bunheads," and three episodes of "MMM"
- Sheila R. Lawrence - produced and wrote episodes for all Sherman-Palladino shows (sans "AYitL")
NYC locations you can visit
- Kettle of Fish Bar. Back in the day, it used to be right next to the Gaslight Cafe, but it has moved multiple times over the years and is currently a Packers Bar, located at 59 Christopher St.
- The Village Vanguard at 179 7th Ave. S. Midge goes to see Lenny Bruce open for a jazz band at this club. I saw The Bad Plus here when I first moved to NYC and it was a great experience. I stood by the bar, pressed up against some random man's ballsack, but I still give the night 10/10.
- The Music Inn at 169 W. 4th St. I can't personally vouch for this place, but the Internet says some nice things about their basement vinyl selection. Midge goes here on multiple occasions to buy comedy albums.
- Old Town Bar at 45 E. 18th St. I once went on a Tinder date here. The dude told me he liked my leather jacket, but totally ghosted me. He was ugly and his pants were too tight, so whatever. This is the watering hole Joel frequents post-Midge.
- The Prospect Park Carousel. I used to go here whenever I was feeling particularly sad. So, like... all the time. This is the location for Ethan's birthday party and Midge's uncomfortable divorce conversation with Joel.
Amy Sherman-Palladino has a real gift for writing egotistical, opinionated female characters who would be downright detestable if they weren't so damn charming. Lorelai Gilmore is a shitty mom, daughter, friend, and partner, but she's fun! We want to see good things happen to her even when she doesn't deserve them because the show has aligned us with her struggle.
One of my boyfriend's most accurate "Gilmore Girls" criticisms is that the show is annoying because its stance on Lorelai is confusing. She's a flawed character who treats people like shit and refuses to recognize her own privilege, but the whole town worships her and even after seven seasons (+ "AYitl") she never really evolves. The show constantly pushes the narrative that Lorelai is a great mom, entrepreneur, and human, all while giving us countless evidence that proves otherwise.
The show does this with Rory, too. We're supposed to believe she's smart, responsible, and mature, but she constantly fucks up and by Season 6, is a full-blown trust fund brat. Everyone who knows her sings her praises and overlooks all of her faults, which becomes hard to take over time, especially in "AYitL."
The same holds true for Midge Maisel. She has two kids she barely sees, parents she takes for granted, and a sense of entitlement that should make her difficult to stomach... but she's a fucking delight! And why is she a fucking delight? Because Rachel Brosnahan is good at her job, the show appeals to my personal sensibilities, and I completely suspend my belief (as I do with all ASP shows) while watching.
I'm going to say something controversial here ... are you ready? I don't find Midge Maisel's stand up act funny. If I saw her on stage at a comedy club, I would leave. She's a talented performance artist, but her jokes don't make me laugh. So if her jokes don't make me laugh and I don't think she's any good at stand up comedy, why do I like this show? In his review for The Federalist, Tony Daniel says,
Sherman-Palladino flubs a basic rule cub fiction writers and dramatists usually learn early on in their careers: when writing a character who’s supposed to be some kind of genius at something, never bring onstage what they’re good at unless you happen to be a genius at it yourself. If you do and you mess it up, which you will, you’ll lose the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
Generally, I agree with Daniel. But with "MMM," I'm unbothered by the fact that I don't think Midge is a great comic talent. I like her as a character and want her to succeed, so I'm willing to take the show at face value and believe what I'm told. Everyone in the universe of the show (even Joel) loves her and constantly affirms her hilarity. While this can get annoying at times, it's also an effective way to beat viewers into submission. If I'm told something enough times and the show already appeals to my aesthetic and interests, I'm chill to shrugg off my critical gaze.
"GG" suffers from some of the same issues as "MMM" - what we're told and what we're shown don't always jive, but the show works as long as you suspend your disbelief and embrace the fantasy aspect of Stars Hollow and Midge's 1950's New York City.
Why can't the Subway be this beautiful now?
- I spent the first two episodes trying to figure out how I knew Michael Zegen (Joel), and then I finally realized that he plays Benji in "Frances Ha."
- Erin Darke (Mary) is fantastic and if you don't already know her from "Good Girls Revolt," go watch that show immediately!
- I would get drunk with Midge Maisel.
- As Midge chugs kosher wine before her first ever (impromptu) set at the Gaslight, Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony, Op. 4: II" plays. You might recognize this piece of music from Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom."
- This show is beautiful and a testament to what the Palladinos are capable of when they have money and aren't forced to deal with WB censorship rules.
- I didn't like Midge's choice to tear down Sophie Lennon in the penultimate episode. I would love to eventually write a post on this moment (and Lenny Bruce's act of kindness in the finale) but for now, just know that I wasn't a fan.
- My friend Meg made an excellent observation when we were texting about the show: "Had to laugh at the rally scene last episode. White woman who knows nothing follows engaged black woman and makes her explain everything, then white woman ends up getting the mic." YEP.
- Susie has the best lines of the show, many of which actually made me laugh out loud. I die at her assessment of Bing Crosby after Midge confesses her childhood crush: "Really? He's so oily looking. Like if you got on top of him, you'd slide right off." I'll love you forever, Alex Borstein.
- I couldn't remember Gilbert Gottfried's name for some reason, so I wrote "parrot from Aladdin" in my notes when he made an appearance. I couldn't remember Gottfried's name or the parrot's name (Iago). I'm sad for myself.
- "GG" reference crossover: Lenny Bruce, "Say Goodnight, Gracie," "The Ed Sullivan Show," Fellini, "Rosemary's Baby," Liberace, "Anna Karenina," William Holden, Elizabeth Taylor, Samuel Beckett, and Abba-Zabas. I took these directly from my notes and I'm sure I'm missing a shit ton.
- "Nichols and May totally fuck!"