Second seasons are tough. Good thing Amy Sherman-Palladino is even tougher. The creator behind “Gilmore Girls” and “Bunheads” turns in a masterful and delightful second season for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” After eight Emmy wins this past year (including Best Comedy Series), don’t expect the show to slow down. Maisel employs the same tactics many series do in their second season. It expands the world of the show, takes its characters to new locations and further develops its secondary characters. Even while doing that, it doesn’t lose sight of the heart of the show – it’s lead. Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel is, and will always be, the star of the show and she wears it well.
The second season starts off with a bang and gives us a great sense on what type of season to expect. Midge (Brosnahan) and Joel (Michael Zegan) are still technically married but very much broken up after Midge’s triumphant, yet harsh, comedy set. However, there are greater problems happening in Midge’s family. Her mother Rose (Marin Hinkle) has taken off to Paris. It’s up to Midge and her spastic professor father Abe (Tony Shalhoub) to go to Paris to find her and bring her home. Even as the season starts with travel, the show still manages to bring Midge back to comedy. Midge’s chance visit to a drag performance morphs into a comic tour de force. She delivers a sensational, impromptu stand-up routine with help from a similarly fast-talking translator. Yes, the cast talks faster than ever before. However, they’re also funnier than ever before.
That’s what makes Brosnahan’s performance so insatiably charming and effective. She understands that comedy is in Midge’s blood. It infects how she sees the world. Comedy is intrinsically tied to who she is as a person. While her friends, family and acquaintances may wonder what she gets out of comedy, we as an audience understand. It’s a chance for Midge to express how she sees the world in a time where women often don’t get the platform. As the show careens from Paris, to New York, to a wonderfully extended time in the Catskills, comedy follows Midge. Brosnahan nails every laugh line and every comedy set. However, she also makes Midge a fully dimensional being with a fresh, optimistic, sometimes sheltered, always hilarious look at life.
While season two deepens Midge’s love for comedy, it also gives the incredibly talented supporting cast more things to do. Tony Shalhoub’s Abe won raves for his flustered intellectual patriarch in the first season. Here, Abe gets even more fun things to do as a man so aggressively set in his ways. Even more than that, the show allows him a chance to reflect on his own life goals and take leaps even as late in his career as a tenured professor. While the show expands Abe’s role, it even further expands the role of Rose, and Marin Hinkle rises to the challenge. Rose challenges the conventions of a bored housewife. Instead, she becomes this strong foundation and voice of reason in the family. As everyone searches for their truth, she seeks extracurricular fulfillment on top of her duty of keeping the family afloat.
As much as Amy Sherman-Palladino loves the world of this upper-class Jewish family, she also knows how and when to turn her attention to the dirtier and more tempestuous world of comedy. Our entry point to this world is Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), Midge’s fiercely loyal manager. Borstein and Sherman-Palladino excel at depicting the tiring flop-sweat and wheeling and dealing necessary to book Midge at even the lousiest of gigs. One particular extended sequence in a local deli finds Susie conducting a quartet of negotiations and business meetings. Borstein manages to delight in Susie’s antics without making her a caricature. An extended gag finds her carrying around a plunger to fit in as a staff at a Catskills resort. While funny, it also shows how Susie adapts to fit in with any crowd and what she will do to disappear and get the job done.
It’s a wonder how “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” gets more ambitious, yet feels more grounded. As Midge rises in the comedy world, so do the stakes and scope of the season. Yet, the central relationships (parent-daughter, ex husband and wife, manager and client) all still feel so intricate and lived in. The world of the 50s comes to life in great detail not just to visually impress but to show the class and cultural divide of its characters. What does it mean to vacation with the same Jewish families you’ve known for your whole life and then perform on a national telethon? How does one code themselves differently in their posh Manhattan apartment vs a dive bar performance in Philadelphia? The writing, directing and acting all work together to collectively raise the bar for the show. I can’t fathom Mrs. Maisel being anything other than truly Marvelous.