Amy Sherman-Palladino is back, this time foregoing network television for the new frontier of streaming with her new pilot, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It’s part of their Amazon’s Pilot Season, meaning that the fate of this show–whether more episodes will be produced–is left up to anyone who watches the show and then votes for it at Amazon.com/pilotseason.
I voted a definite “yes”. It makes sense for the Palladino’s to enter this new land of streaming TV as it allows creators to move beyond the strict structure and rhythms of network TV, which to be frank are primarily designed to dupe people into watching commercials. Quality is not paramount, as they just want any kind of programming that will keep eyeballs on those ever-important commercials. Mass appeal is their goal, yet so difficult to attain. To paraphrase Karen Walker on Will and Grace, network shows try to appeal to everyone and ironically end up appealing to no one.
Gilmore Girls was one network TV show that drew relatively large audiences yet resisted the typical dumbing-down tendencies of TV executives; this was done through the sheer tenacity of the Palladinos. As Amy has said, the WB executives kept trying to remove what made Gilmore Girls unique and watchable. She may have learned from her time working on Roseanne where the star fought tooth-and-nail, ejecting the show’s co-creator and essentially driving everyone else crazy, to keep her show from being turned into Full House or Growing Pains.
Along with being exacting in terms of the writing, direction, sets, costumes, etc., the Palladinos developed work methods and techniques for Gilmore Girls designed to prevent network meddling. These included shooting in master shots so that no cuts could be made, delivering the scripts at the very last minute to prevent network review, and overlapping the rapid-fire dialogue so that no lines could be isolated and cut. The perhaps unintended consequence of these techniques was that Gilmore Girls developed a unique feel and rhythm setting it apart from other shows (I’ve harped on Seventh Heaven before, but my god, it stinks of pure yawn-inducing network executive notes). Think of the epic walk-and-talks across Stars Hollow performed with expert precision (after multiple takes) by Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel. These techniques also helped keep Gilmore Girls intact when it went into syndication. It’s a shame when you watch a rerun of another show and see where lines, shots and scenes have been cut out in order to fit in more commercials.
Away from these restrictions, the question was whether Amy would blossom or feel lost. There are some creators who strive for complete freedom but find themselves adrift once they achieve it, doing their best work when rebelling against the powers that be. With The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amy shows that she blossoms with the freedom, that she really does know what she’s doing and that network executives should always have listened to her.
Set in the late 1950s, the hour-long pilot written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino (produced with Dan Palladino) appears to be very loosely based on the life of Joan Rivers who had to fight her way into the world of stand-up comedy that was (and many would say still is) dominated by men. It opens perfectly, at the wedding party of Miriam “Midge” Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan) where she addresses her guests in stand-up comedian style. From the very start, we see her already-developed sense of humor and comfort in front of an audience. However, she has no aspirations to be a comedienne. Instead, she puts her immense drive and determination into being the perfect wife and mother in the upper-class Jewish world of the Upper West Side. She’s thrilled when she lands a rabbi to attend the Yom Kippur meal they’re hosting, gets her ankles and wrists measured to keep track so as not to lose her girlish figure, makes sure her husband never sees her without perfect makeup and hair, and cooks brisket and takes detailed notes in support of her husband’s stand-up comedy “hobby” in Greenwich Village. However, her perfectly cultivated life falls apart and she finds herself onstage, drunk in front of an audience, discovering that she and not her husband has the talent for stand-up.
For me, the show hits the sweet spot with a scrappy and loveable main character, a female point of view in a much more sexist time, and the fascinating mileau of upper-class Jewish life contrasted with the grittier world of Greenwich Village dive bars and nightclubs. Amy’s father was Jewish and a stand-up comic so she has direct knowledge and experience with this world.
Is Midge actually funny? That’s the especially daunting part of the show that Amy pulls off. How many times have we seen movies or TV where people who are supposed to be funny aren’t? And to compensate, they make the extras laugh on cue and hope it’s enough to convince the audience of hilarity. Here, Midge truly made me laugh. This is half attributable to Amy’s writing along with Rachel Brosnahan’s expert comic delivery; she handles Amy’s famously rhythmic reference-filled dialogue with aplomb and can tell a joke. Sign that girl up for seven seasons–she’s a real find, I’m telling you.
Also, Rachel just happens to look incredible in the clothes of the period. It’s a fantasy version of the late 1950s where we’d all love to live just to wear the clothes despite all the oppression.
As for the rest of the cast, of special note to Gilmore Girls fans is Alex Borstein, portraying a pivotal character whose role may become more prominent role if the show gets picked up; if you recall, in Gilmore Girls, Alex played dual roles as Drella and Miss Celine (and was the original Sookie). Also, Keiko Agena should be thrilled since her favorite actor, Tony Shalhoub, plays Midge’s father. Marin Hinkle (Speechless) is Midge’s mother and Michael Zegen (Boardwalk Empire) plays Midge’s husband.
All in all, this is a terrific addition in the tradition of Gilmore Girls and Bunheads. Please watch and vote “yes”.