Amy Sherman-Palladino’s Gilmore Girls is a perennial favourite around these parts, with its wisecracking women and pin-sharp scripts, so the prospect of a new show from Sherman-Palladino and Amazon Prime Video was pretty enticing. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is another female-centric story with a kickass protagonist, but this is no contemporary heroine. Instead, this tale is set in the early 1960s, around the explosion of modern stand-up comedy, but the good news is that, on the basis of its pilot episode, it’s every bit as fresh, funny and fast-paced as any Gilmore could wish.
It’s the story of a (fictional) young housewife and mother called Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), who’s living the dream in early 1960s New York. Her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), is a business executive by day and a stand-up by night, a career Miriam assists by bribing the comedy-club bosses with brisket and keeping careful track of which jokes get the biggest laughs. In fact, she’s a model housewife all around: obsessively measuring and maintaining her figure, sneaking out of bed first thing to apply make-up before her husband wakes up and fretting about whether her baby daughter has too big a forehead. Her parents – neurotic mum Rose (Marin Hinkle) and grumpy dad Abe (Tony Shalhoub) live just upstairs – and you can bet that they’ll disapprove of any change in the comfortable life they’ve come to know.
From the wedding speech that serves as our introduction to her uninhibited college antics to her lightning wit, it’s obvious that Miriam Maisel should be the one making the jokes
But, through it all, you have the sneaking suspicion that the wrong half of this couple is onstage. From the wedding speech that serves as our introduction to her uninhibited college antics to her lightning wit, it’s obvious that Miriam should be the one making the jokes. The comedy club’s Susie (Alex Borstein, formerly the acid-tongued harpist from Gilmore Girls) clearly sees more potential in Miriam than in Joel, but restrains herself to eye-rolls when she’s around him. And anyway, can Miriam Maisel really combine a respectable life on the Upper West Side, including Yom Kippur dinner with the rabbi, with a career as a stand-up? Hanging out in clubs in the Village in the early hours of the morning is not what one expected of college-educated "good" girls at that time.
Mrs Maisel’s story echoes real-life comedy pioneers like Joan Rivers and – in particular – Phyllis Diller, who got her start with routines riffing on her status as a wife and mother. Diller, too, stepped into the (still) male-dominated world of stand-up and became a legend on the scene. And the film features real-life comedians, both as actors and as characters: Gilbert Gottfried cameos to play a comedy-club compere, while Luke Kirby plays legendary comedian Lenny Bruce.
The comedy world is also a great fit for Sherman-Palladino, whose quick-firing dialogue always seemed suited for a stand-up stage – virtually any Lorelai scene in Gilmore Girls could serve as the opening to a killer routine. But, most importantly of all, hidden under Mrs Maisel’s gorgeous 60s clothes and old-fashioned apartment is a modern, determined woman facing the same dilemmas that many of us face. To get through – and provide for her children – Mrs Maisel will need all of her humour, wit and courage, and lots of us can relate to that struggle.
If that all sounds like your sort of thing, come along and join The Pool and me for an exclusive screening and panel event this Thursday (9 November) for what promises to be a fast and fun discussion with the show’s creators and cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Amy Sherman-Palladino, Daniel Palladino and Alex Borstein. Click here to buy tickets now.
And if you’re a little too far away this time, you can catch up with the first episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime Video now. The whole series will be available to watch November 29.