Miriam Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) had it all, by the definitions of what all meant in 1958. She is a wealthy white woman with an upper west side apartment, perfect figure, an enviable collection of hats, and two sufficiently adorable children.
That is, until her husband leaves her one night for his secretary and she is forced to move back in with her parents. Drunk and disbelieving at how someone perfect like her could get dumped, she delivers a hilarious and authentic stream of consciousness stand-up set that ridicules the hypocrisy of her milieu, a source that continues to provide her plenty of material.
Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, the first season of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel ended on a high with Miriam announcing herself by her stage name Mrs Maisel and marking her entry into the stand-up comedy scene in 1950s New York. Season 2, however, just cannot sustain the promise of the previous season and hesitates from allowing Miriam to achieve her true potential. While she is comfortable ridiculing her family and high society on stage, Miriam seems quite determined to hold on to all the trappings and traditions that she has grown up with.
Instead of getting us up to date with how far her career has progressed, the season opens with her mother Rose (Marin Hinkle) leaving her father Abe (Tony Shalhoub), and moving to Paris to find herself again. Itâ€™s perhaps a good idea on paper to show two generations of women on a quest for self-discovery but here it ends up being an unnecessary distraction. Season 2 of the show is also far too indulgent of subplots involving Miriamâ€™s ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen), his parents, her brotherâ€™s CIA career, a half-hearted new romance, and her employment problems at departmental store B Altman where she has been demoted from Revlon sales girl to telephone operator. There is also an extended summer vacation at a fancy summer resort in upstate New York, and just when we are about to lose interest, we finally see Miriamâ€™s story move forward with her father finding out her secret.
Unfortunately, in its determined effort to keep the tone comic and skirt around gritty realism of any kind, creators and writers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino stunt Miriamâ€™s character. She always has childcare for her kids, her parents are paying to maintain her lifestyle, and apart from being disqualified from a beauty pageant for married women, she seems to be quite content with her life. She occasionally reminisces on stage how her life fell apart and reminds her husband that he left her, but her pain is overshadowed by her overwhelming privilege.
Sadly, this makes her stand-up dreams look a wealthy womanâ€™s hobby than a coming of age tale. We see her in a montage performing at different downtown clubs and dive bars, but there is no evolution shown in her content or presentation. While we know she finds being on stage effortless, it would have been great to see her prepare, write, rehearse and really work on herself as a serious artist. When Miriam says towards the end of the season that she wants to be the best in the business, itâ€™s a little hard to believe given how distracted she has been with trips to Paris, the Catskills and wedding planning for almost 8 episodes.
This suspension of seriousness extends to Miriamâ€™s manager Susie (Alex Borstein). While there have been constant jokes about her being mistaken for a man for almost two seasons, the show refuses to explore her character or sexuality in greater depth. Does she cross-dress for safety, because she grew up with hand-me-downs from two brothers, or because she is, in fact, a butch lesbian woman? We still donâ€™t know and it looks like we arenâ€™t dealing with the not so glossy facts of that anytime soon.
The show is pleasant on the eye and undoubtedly well researched. From the taxis to the telephones everything looks authentically mid 20th century, with even minor details like lipsticks and perfume bottles being carefully selected to sustain the period feel. There are songs by greats like Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra playing in the background, and I especially loved the casual recommendation of Sylvia Plathâ€™s psychiatrist, and humans playing teleprompter and bowling pin collector.
The scenes are filmed in wonderful long takes and the dialogue flows like easy banter, but the frothy charm can't take away from the narrative that is stretched and riddled with holes like old nylon stockings. Miriam Maisel is a brilliant, talented young woman who has been underestimated all her life, and sadly this season cannot keep up with her too.