Saturday, December 23, 2017

Streaming "must": Amazon's THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL is all you've heard -- and more!

What a glory is both this new show (available now via Amazon Prime) and its star, the ravishing Rachel Brosnahan. Turns out I have seen Ms Brosnahan numerous times previously (from Netflix's House of Cards and Burn Country to James White and Patriots Day) but have managed to not really "notice" her until now. That won't happen again. THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL gives Brosnahan the kind of role actors would die for, and she fills it so completely and spectacularly that you cannot imagine anyone else possibly doing the job any better.

The brainchild of writer/director/producer Amy Sherman-Palladino and her producer/writer/director husband, Daniel Palladino (the pair shown at left), the series comes to immediate and fine life at the mid-1950s wedding, below, of Miriam Weissman (Ms Brosnahan) to Joel Maisel (the excellent Michael Zegen) and then moves mostly forward but occasionally back in time as the character and personality of our heroine come clear. What is most clear from the very start is that Miriam ("Midge") Maisel is a born comic: someone who is innately funny and can't help sharing this fact with the rest of the world. And yet, unlike so many stand-up comics who must always "own the room," Mrs. Maisel (and, it would seem, Brosnahan, too) leavens this need for control with such a dose of sweetness and charm that she completely seduces her audience. And us.

The arc of the series has our heroine moving from housewife and mother (a good one in both cases) to comic, and this turns out to be no easy task or any kind of overnight success. It's a slow (but always funny and entertaining) process, full of backsliding and doubt, while trying to appease some folk while keeping this goal a secret from the others.

The first-rate supporting cast includes the likes of Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle (above) as Midge's parents, and the wonderful Alex Borstein (below: remember MAD-TV's Ms Swan?) as Susie, the"gate-keeper"at the comedy club who pushes Midge into performing, after seeing her surprising and intoxicated stage debut (two photos below).

This series continually fosters a real and a deep appreciation of women's roles in our society, while keeping us laughing about these at the same time. The combination of Sherman-Palladino's writing skills and Brosnahan's performance turns The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel into something sneakily ground-breaking.

It will have you loving and appreciating all the women you see here, including even Penny Pan (Holly Curran), the home-wrecking secretary who helps cause the Maisels' separation, as well as Rose, Midge's strait-laced, appearances-are-all mother, whom Ms Hinkle bring to wonderful, sad life. You may not agree with these women or their choices, but you do understand them and feel for them.

This empathy extends to the men on view, too -- Midge's husband (Mr. Zegen is shown above, left, and below, right), her father and even her father-in-law (Kevin Pollack). We laugh at these guys, but we understand then and finally come to care about them.

Succulent smaller roles are brought to rich life by actors like Mary Testa (as Rose's fortune teller), David Paymer (as a higher-level agent/manager to whom Susie must turn for help), and Luke Kirby, doing a surprising and terrific turn as Lenny Bruce, whose path Midge crosses a number of times during this premiere season.

Especially commanding is Jane Lynch, above, who gets one episode nearly all to herself, playing a famous comic named Sophie Lennon (think maybe a combo of Sophie Tucker and Joan Rivers) who gives our gal advice that is used quite otherwise than intended. Ms Lynch is memorable indeed, and what Midge does with her advice is even more so.

Questions have been raised as to the provenance of the lead character. Is she based, for instance, on Joan Rivers? Yes, there is some similarity between Rivers' early work and what we see here. But not all that much. It seems to me that Miriam "Midge" Maisel is a character cut almost totally from "whole cloth" and all the better for it. Someone like this never really exited in the mid-20th-century, although comedy, New York and the world at large would have been better if she had.

By the time we've reached the end of this ten-episode (each around 50 minutes) series, everything is in place for what may be the most wonderfully "earned" and perfect ending in the history of exceptional television seasons. Oh, boy: what a moment. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel streams now via Amazon, and the series alone is worth the yearly hundred-dollar Prime membership fee. Whatever you do, don't miss Mrs. Maisel.

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