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Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Seasons 1 and 2: Triumph for Risks and Laughter

I don't usually watch comedy on television or streaming, and review it even less.  But our daughter Molly raved about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel after the first season, and given that she'd recommended such winners as Alias and Sons of Anarchy, her praising of Maisel certainly put it on the possible list.  Sisters-in-laws and in-laws urged us to watch it, too.  But what put me over the top was the lunch I had with Bob Mann, a professor with inimitable tastes  (I was a guest on his late, lamented Sirius XM Radio show "Let's the Consider the Source" at least 50 times.  It should be coming back as a podcast soon.)

Maisel was everything Mann and the family said it was.  Hilarious and profound, and one of the best portrayals of Jewish life in 1950s New York City on any screen.   Further, Mrs. Maisel, mother of a baby girl and a young son whose husband Joel leaves her at the beginning of the story, provides a memorable tableau of late 50s Village cafe culture and extended media, as she tries to break into the stand-up comedy circuit.

She's enormously talented, and her riffing routines in themselves provide one of the real joys of this series.  Other highlights include
  • a 2+ episode spot-on depiction of the Catskills in the summer, at least as good, and in some ways better, than what we saw in Dirty Dancing
  • a portrayal by Luke Kirby (Rectify) of Lenny Bruce - who recognizes Maisel's talent, and does what he can to support her - that I actually liked better than Dustin Hoffman's in the 1974 Lenny, which, I don't know, was powerful, but too much Dustin
  • and speaking of acting, Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) as Mrs. Maisel, Tony Shalhoub (Monk) as her father Abe Weissman, a professor of mathematics at Columbia University (though it looked like some of the exterior scenes were shot at Fordham), and Alex Borstein (never heard of her before) as Maisel's manager are just off-the-chart in their unique and fabulous performances.
But not everything has been perfect in this delightful, insightful series.
  • Some of the details were anachronistic, i.e., incorrect for the time portrayed.  The Defenders debuted in 1961, and couldn't have been known to Maisel characters in 1959.   Same for Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," which was released in 1967.  Were the producers of Mrs. Maisel not allowed to look at IMDb and Wikipedia as part of their immersion in the time?
  • The guy who played Steve Allen at the end of season 2 looked nothing like him.   Even Elvis Costello or someone I saw on Meet the Press would have been better.
But these are small quibbles for a series that has already taken its place along side of All in the Family and Curb Your Enthusiasm as laughing out loud, stoking your heart, and learning about life comedy.  And the second season was even better than the first - wilder and more clearly drawn story lines, always a good sign in a series.  Another triumph for risks and Amazon Prime Video.

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