In comedy, timing is everything, and for the comedy series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, its timing couldn’t be more perfect.
In November, Amazon Prime dropped eight episodes of the period series, a sort of Mad Men meets Broadway Danny Rose, in its tale of a young uptown Manhattan divorcee who tries to take the mic as a stand-up comedienne in a chauvinistic 1958 with her female manager who also is being taken less seriously by her male peers. With its fairy tale billboards of its title character donning a red fashionable coat amid fedora-wearing trenchcoated men and its starry children’s book logo, the Mrs. Maisel marketing appeared to be targeted at those Amazon Prime families who might be sidelined at home during the holidays. But upon watching the series, one would soon realize much how Mrs. Maisel spoke to the #MeToo and Time’s Up era around us.
Mrs. Maisel broke through immediately on the awards circuit in January with two Golden Globe wins for best TV comedy and best actress Rachel Brosnahan. Today it scored 14 of Amazon’s 22 Emmy noms including best comedy series, lead comedy actress Brosnahan, supporting actress Alex Borstein, supporting actor Tony Shalhoub and guest comedy actress Jane Lynch.
Even though the show speaks greatly to female empowerment today, a #MeToo and Time’s Up agenda wasn’t technically part of series creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband Daniel Palladino’s plan. However, there are moments which hit close to home, especially for those in the industry, i.e. during a later episode in Season 1, Brosnahan’s wannabe comic Midge takes down a rival comedy legend Sophie Lennon (Lynch) in her stand-up act, only to piss off the latter’s agent (David Paymer). He then blackballs Midge from performing at the Gaslight Cafe and her manager Susie Myerson from doing business around town. When it comes to the word “blackball” and our industry as of late, we tend to think of those actresses whose careers were stalled by Harvey Weinstein when they failed to cave into his demands.
Another mega Mrs. Maisel Time’s Up moment comes toward the end when Midge’s ex-husband Joel realizes that his wife is flourishing in a stand-up career that he envies but is too talent-less to become a success in. We see him in the final scenes, angry at Susie, and those around him, that his wife has become triumphant in her craft, drawing material from their marital misfortunes.
“When we started the series, we didn’t want it to feel political, rather relevant to a young woman today. We didn’t want it to feel like, ‘Oh, it’s my grandma’s story’, but that it could be their story. Then it became time to take the gargantuans down [in the #MeToo movement], and it brought a different view to our show that wasn’t necessarily intended. It worked in an odd way, freakishly and also, boo, it shows how far we have not come since the 1950s,” says Sherman-Palladino.
How a woman holds herself is a big theme in Mrs. Maisel. Wives are seen on the show putting on beauty masks after their husbands fall asleep and taking them off before they wake up in the morning. The effect that they’re trying to achieve is that they go to bed beautiful and wake up magically that way. Lynch’s comedy legend Sophie dispenses sexist advice to Midge that comediennes can only get by doing cartoon caricatures of themselves. It’s the only way they’ll get a male audience to laugh, because if a woman looks beautiful and conversational on stage, guys will only sexually crave her.
“There was a time when women couldn’t be viewed as funny as men,” says Sherman-Palladino, “We created Midge to be a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. She likes being feminine and has an outlet to say what’s on her mind. In regards to her ambition of wanting to be a comic, she doesn’t know what the rules are.
“Being a woman in the 1950s, there were a lot of presentations and fronts a woman had to put on,” she adds. “Midge’s journey is in her fearlessness in enjoying the presentation, but being willing to dig under the presentation and be many things. It’s one of the themes we have on the show that we’ll dig into more in Season 2, especially with Rose (Marin Hinkle).” That theme, Sherman-Palladino adds, “While extremely relevant in the 50s, is also relevant today.”
In regards to Season 2 teases, the Palladinos were as mum as Matt Weiner before a season of another award-winning 1960s-era TV drama Mad Men.
Says Sherman-Palladino, “All we can tell you is that Midge is still alive, Joel is still breathing, and Abe and Rose are still adorable.”