TV

‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ Just Might Be Perfect Breakup Television

This is some wholesome, joyful TV.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

The Amazon Prime Video Original The Marvelous Mrs Maisel has a lot going for it: it’s just won an absolute spree of Emmys, it’s being widely praised in reviews and it’s already been renewed for a second and third season. It’s almost perfectly enjoyable television — that’s it, review over!

Helmed by co-creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, who you might remember from iconic shows like Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is designed to be an extremely funny and heartfelt blend between drama and comedy like their previous work. You’ll laugh, you’ll watch people cry, it’s a whole thing. However, it’s also more ambitious and confident, in both scope and style. It’s less snackable than Gilmore Girls, more defined in its purpose. There’s less ballet than Bunheads.

The story follows the life of the titular Mrs Maisel, who we are introduced to as she’s giving a speech at her own wedding. Miriam Maisel is a force of nature, a tank of gasoline that fuels the entire show, played perfectly and gorgeously by Rachel Brosnahan. “What kind of woman gives a speech at her own wedding,” she asks, providing the answer to her own question.

This is basically how the show works — we watch a 1950s housewife lose her husband and privileged upper west-side life and begin a spontaneous career in comedy, with each episode asking “what kind of woman is brave/talented/funny/ messy enough to do this?”

And the answer is always Midge Maisel.

The Complication

(Some mild spoilers for episode 1)

Midge Maisel is a rare kind of depiction of a Type-A personality — she’s driven, organised, passionate and above all, forceful.

However, from the beginning we see that she funnels all this power and energy into creating a kind of Stepford Wife lifestyle — she envisioned her perfect life early (husband, house, children, perfect body, beautiful clothes) and at 26 years of age, she’s blissfully living it, seemingly by force of will alone. However, while it might be fun to watch a very fun, personable lady live an uncomplicated 1950s life for the gorgeous fashion alone, there’s not a lot to pin a show on.

So, enter the drama.

Midge’s husband Joel is a businessman of some sort — I feel like maybe he sells paper? — and much like most men, he thinks he’s funny. After work, he puts on a cool black turtleneck and tries to make it as a standup comedian. Midge, of course, is the one who actually makes this happen, greasing the wheels of comedy bureaucracy with tactical briskets, workshopping his jokes: you know, doing the work.

Anyway, long story short, after he completely bombs on stage after Midge discovers he’s been ripping off other more famous comedian’s material, he breaks up with her and reveals that he’s been having an affair with his dull secretary, Penny Pann. Joel decides that he doesn’t want this life anymore — the perfect 1950s utopian ideal that Miriam has painstakingly crafted, which is centred around their marriage and family.

It’s obviously a life-shattering experience, especially in the very conservative elitist world that Miriam moves in. But for the audience, and potentially for Midge herself, it’s the best thing that could have happened, because we get to see her finally focus all her formidable intelligence and energy and wit on herself.

Stand Up Comedy

A show purely about a stand-up comedian trying to find their legs frankly sounds like a nightmare.

But, the comedy performances that Midge Maisel sorta blunders into are less about a tight ten, and more about the joys of watching someone smart and funny and passionate find herself and work hard at doing something she loves. It’s a kind of love story to independence, to the idea of freedom outside of a relationship. It’s the ideal situation — your piece of shit husband leaves you and goes off to fulfil his dreams, only to discover that you are actually much better at those dreams than he is. It’s like aspirational revenge!

But it’s truly feel-good comedy — Midge is messy and heartbroken and vulnerable and manages to blunder through all that nonsense with an upward momentum, converting her pain and bewilderment into material for a breakaway comedy career.

Sometimes the biggest fantasy for the breakup narrative is the idea of failing up.

She Really Is Marvellous

Midge Maisel is legitimately marvellous — as they say in the show, she’s beautiful, smart and funny.

It’s super easy to fall in love with Miriam Maisel, and a big part of that is because of Rachel Brosnahan’s stellar and often hilarious performance, which very deservedly won her a Best Actress Emmy.

It’s kinda insane how wonderful she is. But the show does a good job of tempering this — sure she’s got a natural talent for comedy, but she isn’t successful immediately. They show her working hard, bombing a few times, making mistakes. Actually, she kinda compulsively makes the same mistakes over and over, which COULD become annoying down the line. But that’s pretty real.

It would be insufferable if she achieved everything immediately and effortlessly, even after being brought down a peg or two by the divorce — but we know she will succeed. It’s just a matter of when: but that’s all a part of the joyful fantasy of this show, the compulsive positive viewing, that makes The Marvelous Mrs Maisel the kinda comfort TV that audiences will go back to again and again.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is currently streaming onAmazon Prime Video, it’s so fucking joyful.

Patrick Lenton is the Entertainment Editor at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.