The accolades came almost instantly. Within weeks of their series being released on Amazon Prime Video in November 2017, the team behind The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel were clutching Golden Globes for Best Musical or Comedy Television Series and Best Performance by an Actress for their lead Rachel Brosnahan.
“Nobody really knew who we were in that room,” remembers Daniel Palladino, co-writer, director and husband to the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. “We were sitting in the very back of the TV section, behind the movie section, near the bread rolls.”
“The busboy was putting trays down right on top of us,” laughs Sherman-Palladino. “But then they announced our name and I just remember all these faces turning towards us going, ‘Maisel what?’”
Since then, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has been a consistent awards darling—picking up another Golden Globe this year, wins in the Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild and Producers Guild, plus eight Emmys, including nods for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series.
Yet all those wins, and the just-announced 20 total Emmy nominations, are the last thing on this duo’s minds as they forge ahead on Maisel’s last few weeks of Season 3 production, shooting between two massive sound stages in Brooklyn.
“My whole career, I’ve never had awards. Never,” grins Sherman-Palladino, during a brief break in writing. She’s wearing her signature hat, featuring a solitary match sticking out from its band. “I’m still angry about Lauren Graham not getting nominated. I should let it go but I won’t. Because that’s me.”
She’s referring to the star of the much-loved Gilmore Girls, which, during its seven-season network run amassed a passionate fanbase obsessed with its hyper-fast dialogue and quirky but emotional humor. The show, in fact, only ever took home one Emmy (for makeup, in 2004).
When the Amazon-produced Mrs. Maisel came into being, it was as if the Sherman-Palladino vision had finally been matched with a studio that could offer the pair the resources to make the show they envisaged. Which makes its 20 nominations proof that staying true to their vision was worth the wait in the end.
“[The nominations] really make people work really hard here,” Sherman-Palladino says. “The devil is in the details on our show. Our sets, our costumes, and our cinematography. Everything is so hard. We don’t have one person here who’s phoning it in. Everybody is really gunning for the best they can possibly do. So that number [of nominations] just means even more of the work is being acknowledged and that is great. And for Amazon—who go, ‘OK, it’s really expensive. There are so many skirts, and cars, and the wigs—it’s fake hair, is it really supposed to be that expensive?’ 20 Emmy nominations gives them a sense that they’re not insane. Even though they’re a little insane.”
The insanity that is Mrs. Maisel begins with an early 1960s New York that no longer exists, so recreating this world requires extensive set decoration, precise costumes and a creative team both in front of and behind the camera that completely understands the rhythm and heartbeat of the show.
After Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel (Brosnahan) found her voice through stand-up comedy in Season 1, Season 2 saw her fully embrace her ambition to make it in a predominantly-male environment. With the help of her lovably grumpy manager Susie (Emmy winner Alex Borstein), Midge navigates life as an upper crust, Upper West Side, scandalously separated Jewish housewife.
Last year, the show packed its bags and headed to both Paris and the Catskills, bringing the City of Lights and the Borscht Belt into Maisel world. The creators knew they had to get those location switches exactly right. “If you watch sitcoms, even great ones that then suddenly go on location, it feels really foreign and the actors can be really awkward,” Sherman-Palladino says. “Like ‘Blossom goes to Paris’. You’re like, ‘What the f*ck are you doing in Paris?’”
“There’s too much space,” Palladino explains, “But this is a show that we felt early on we could take just about anywhere. And these characters, if we put them in the right situations, are going to look comfortable and feel comfortable.”
“But we always come back to New York, because at our heart we are a New York show,” Sherman-Palladino says. “There was always some storyline or character coming back. That’s part of why those [excursions] worked as well as they did, because we didn’t just transport the characters and let them go. There’s always that umbilical cord.”
Even in unfamiliar surroundings, Mrs. Maisel still delivered the fun, eye-opening, one-shot takes that have become the series’ trademark. Magic moments such as the family chaotically arriving at their Catskills summer cottage; Midge bizarrely asking someone with the same initials as her for a dance, or even the usually confident Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) stalking on stage for a make-or-break performance. All of these moments pushed the veteran storytellers to career highs.
“We have this sort of ‘let’s put on a show’ mentality,” says Palladino, “and with a great budget, we’re able to learn things that we couldn’t learn before. It’s on-the-job training for us. We were solely writers for most of our careers, until we realized that we couldn’t stand having our scripts butchered by other directors.”
“On Gilmore Girls,” remembers Sherman-Palladino, “once every two years, it’d be like, ‘We’ve got a crane!’ And everybody stands around the crane and looks at the crane and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, it goes up and there’s wheels!’ But here we have this cinematographer David Mullen, who is this mad genius, and Jim McConkey, who is the best Steadicam operator walking the mean streets of New York today. So, we have these masters of industry and we can say, ‘We’d like to do something where we come downstairs and we walk all the way through the Garment District and we don’t want to cut. How do we do that?’”
Mrs. Maisel is a new world. “Comedy’s always been the stepchild of production values,” she continues. “We came out of sitcom, and that’s really economical. But we felt like no one was really trying to take the visuals and a certain camera style that can enhance comedy. That was our gamble, and Amazon placed their bet on us and they gave us film school.”
Almost on cue, Palladino is called back to work, since he’s on director duties for today’s episode. Meanwhile, there are still some final Season 3 plot points that are nagging at Sherman-Palladino’s mind.
“I’m finishing an outline today for a script that I should’ve started writing three weeks ago for the last episode,” she says. “We don’t believe in doing everything ahead of time. As you go through production, you learn what sets work, what storylines are feeling good, or where you need to lean into something you didn’t think you were going to have to lean into. It’s great at the beginning and then toward the end, we want to kill ourselves.
“And other people want to kill us as well,” laughs Palladino as he readies to take the helm.
“We parade the security guards around,” deadpans Sherman-Palladino, “You’ve really got to have some muscle behind you toward the last couple of episodes.”
And they’re off, with one final pointer: try the grilled cheese sandwich from the on-set food truck on the way out.
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