Very few shows have ever made me fall immediately in love like I did with season 1 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. By the time the police escorted a drunken Midge off the stage of the Gaslight near the end of the first episode, this show had me. Heart, mind, and soul. The rest of the first season only deepened love. By the end, it was not only possibly my favorite show of last year, but my favorite show out right now, period.
Clearly I had high expectations going into season 2. Perhaps unfairly so. Can I really expect a show that drew me in so strongly to replicate that feeling again? Even if it remained as excellent as before, could it make me love so hard a second time? The short answer is yes. Yes and then some.
Landing the Joke
What stood out to me about this second season of Mrs. Maisel was the bold confidence Amy Sherman-Palladino, her fellow writers, the cast, and the rest of the crew have in their vision of this show. Everything wonderful about the first season not only remains, but cranks up another level. The dialogue moves as fast and wittily as ever. The actors have settled confidently into their characters. Side characters receive much-appreciated focus. The direction, cinematography, and costumes of the show remains stunning, easily ranking Mrs. Maisel among the best looking shows out right now.
Even better, the story managed to push a bit outside of the first season’s comfort zone and prove how its formula works in a variety of settings and scenarios. Where the first season found comfort in the Upper West Side of New York City, season 2 immediately moves Mrs. Maisel to Paris for the first two episodes. A later story arc takes the Maisels and Weissmans to the “wilderness” of the Catskills. Midge and Susie eventually go on tour around the northeast United States.
Not only does the show (and Midge) lose none of the charm navigating all these new settings, it only proves the true quality of both. Midge’s impromptu stand-up sets are as funny as ever, even when they require a surprised translator for a French audience. I shared Susie’s fear about the Catskills trip breaking the momentum of the season to date like it might stall Midge’s career. Then it turned into a wonderful multi-episode arc.
Mrs. Maisel plunges fearlessly into different settings and drags its characters along with them, forcing them all to adapt to the changing circumstances of their lives. The first season certainly focused a great deal on change, and season 2 takes it even further. Everyone has their life uprooted in some way. Some major, some minor, but no one escapes the season unscathed.
Midge, of course, is the star. Her comedy career continues on an upward trajectory, ending the season with her biggest step forward yet. The big change comes in the effect her comedy career has on those around her. The first season certainly sees major change in her life but most of it sees her charm her way upwards in Manic Pixie Dream Girl style, minus the man viewing her as such. Season 2 sees her comedy career take a serious effect on her life. Friends are left behind and relationships suffer. Her comedy dreams begin demanding sacrifices, forcing Midge to make hard choices in her life.
While Midge remains eminently likable and perseverant, she comes across appreciatively more flawed than in season 1. There’s a shade of reckless selfishness to Midge this season. She chases her comedy dreams with an almost single-minded focus disregarding those around her. Where everyone just kind of shrugged and said, “that’s Midge” during season 1, the same cannot be said this time around. Her perseverance alienates sometimes.
In the hands of a worse actor or writers, she would come across poorly. Rachel Brosnahan just remains so damn charismatic and fun, though. The writing also knows exactly when to stop at the line between endearing and annoying. It’s a truly remarkable balance combined with a performance that deserves every award Brosnahan will get while this show airs.
And speaking of the acting; Tony Schalhoub is even better this season. The Catskills episodes are him at his very best.
Midge’s parents receive a large focus this season. Midge’s mother Rose quasi-leaves Abe and moves to Paris, triggering the Paris arc to start the season. Both find out about Midge’s career this season as well. Abe, in particular, undergoes an arc much like Rose did last season, as everything he thought he knew about his children falls apart beneath his feet. This includes a revelation about Midge’s brother Noah that expands his character.
However, if I do have a major complaint about this season, it involves Midge’s parents. Rose, especially, is done a disservice. The first 3 episodes of the season focus greatly on her dissatisfaction with her life in New York. When she returns home, however, she quickly falls back into her old socialite lifestyle without further comment. Abe goes to great lengths to be different for her in the first half of the season. Over the second half, though, he also returns to the same habits that caused their problems to begin with. It’s a shame to see the good work done in the beginning of the season vanish like it does.
Susie also has a pretty wonderful season expanding on her life and personality. It’s no surprise to say Alex Borstein is absolutely wonderful; she’s funny, vulnerable, and possesses a fierce loyalty to Midge. She’s also understatedly charismatic. Season 1 established Susie as a loner with trouble making people like her. Season 2 flips this on its head multiple times, showing how Susie can create connections with people besides Midge. Her loyalty and charisma even lead to a huge opportunity for her management career heading into season 3.
She also gets to be really, really funny. Susie was obviously funny in season 1, but most of her humor revolved around Midge, like everyone else. Season 2 gives her a spotlight all her own leading to some of the funniest moments all season. There’s a multi-episode gag involving a plunger that might be my favorite joke all season.
In the end, it is still the Midge/Susie dynamic driving this show, and it was undoubtedly improved upon.
Mrs. Maisel’s bold confidence in itself really shines through in the skill with which season 2 expanded on all these side characters and introduced others, all without even the slightest hiccup in the show’s quality. Midge even gets a new love interest, a doctor named Benjamin, who blows Joel out of the water. There’s an immediate chemistry between the two despite Benjamin’s initial indifference. An indifference that, to be honest, made me worry about the subplot. Things weren’t helped by the massive Not Like Other Girls angle that makes Benjamin interested in Midge.
An episode later, I loved it. That’s just what Maisel does, and it earned a great deal of trust from me moving forward. Seriously, the Catskills was wonderful.
Speaking of Joel…I have to say I dislike him even more this season than I did in season 1. I know his character comes down to personal preference. My personal preference is that his character needs to change.
He’s so toxically masculine and pathetically insecure, even more than the first season, and it stands out poorly to me among so many other wonderful characters. At least in season 1 he was a guy who made a really stupid mistake and tried to rehab from it. I didn’t mind him. This time around he doubles down on both his mistake and his sense of entitlement regarding Midge. He wants to live a womanizing bachelor life yet throws hissy fits at the idea of Midge having anything without him.
However, Joel and the vanishing character growth of Rose do little to detract from a fantastic season for the entire cast. Mrs. Maisel did exactly what you want to see with a cast of characters in a second season; they grew them, expanded them, and continued endearing you to them.
Was that Political? It Sounded Political!
Mrs. Maisel also continues and grows its political streak in season 2. The main obstacle to Midge’s career is never her own ability or Susie’s ability to find gigs. No, in the end, it always comes down to sexism. Everywhere Midge goes, bookers think she’s a singer or don’t want to put her on because she’s a woman. Susie has to use fake pictures to sell her sometimes. Fellow comedians mock her on stage, but when she mocks them back, she gets in trouble.
There’s also a moment where Midge bases a set around pregnancy jokes and is rushed off stage for saying the word “pregnant.” Of course, this comes directly after a man who told jokes about penis growths.
I’d say your mileage here may vary. Perhaps Mrs. Maisel is too blunt with its feminism and will make you groan. The combination of Midge’s exceptionalism and the lack of subtlety won’t appeal to everyone. Personally, I think it straddles the line effectively and falls in balance with the style of the show. Mrs. Maisel isn’t trying to tell a story focused on rising feminism during 1950s America. The politics are an added source for jokes and conflict. Personally, I find those jokes hilarious.
The politics also extended beyond Midge and her career with some hints at Abe’s activist past, which has been set up as a major plotline for season 3. Ultimately, this is a show about a Jewish woman breaking into comedy in America during the 1950s-1960s. To ignore politics and the patriarchy entirely would feel inauthentic.
Regardless of time period, Mrs. Maisel is telling a story about a woman escaping expected gender roles to be the person she wants to be. It can’t help but be political. I think they do a pretty great job in that regard.
More deftly handled throughout season 2 was the issue of wealth and social class. Comparisons often arise regarding the difference in wealth between Midge and Susie. Sometimes this comes from giant confrontations, and sometimes the point is made more quietly, such as the differences in living quarters during the Catskills trip. Joel and his family exist somewhere between, well off enough to live close to the Weissmans but still struggling to keep a business afloat.
Like everything else, this tends to exist as a source of growth and character jokes. Mrs. Maisel clearly isn’t trying to make a larger point about wealth inequality or the privilege of the Midge and her parents. Conflicts pop up because circumstances demand it.
Overall, it all works. It also adds needed depth to a show that could have ignored these circumstances entirely. In many ways, season 1 did ignore much of this. Midge faced sexism, but not quite to the extreme she does in season 2. Midge’s wealth and privilege stood out, but was not directly addressed compared to Susie’s poverty. Like everything else about season 2, Mrs. Maisel expanded the realities of the world around Midge, Susie, and their friends and family. I think they did a fine job.
There’s so much depth here I can’t even comment on. Elements of the existence of women, the impact of being Jewish, of possible LGBTQ elements that may or may not exist. Mrs. Maisel is, at its core, a show trying to be funny. It’s a comedy. However, it has a lot there to dig into. More than I can get into here, and more than I could even recognize. Season 2 made these characters and their world so much bigger and more meaningful, and I love both the effort and execution.
I admit to a bit of bias when it comes to Mrs. Maisel. As I said to begin this review, I fell deeply in love in the very first episode and it’s possible my ability to recognize deep flaws has vanished. This show hits on just about every level for me. The jokes almost always land, the drama hits its mark, and anyone not named Joel has my undying devotion. I have zero practical knowledge of fashion and yet I deeply admire the clothing choices for every character.
There’s a reason season 2 of Mrs. Maisel will end up on a lot of Best Of lists for 2018. It’s funny, smart, beautiful, dramatic, and makes you care for its characters. It absolutely deserved an Emmy over the incredible second season of Atlanta, and it only got better this season. I’m left with the same question I had after the first season; can Mrs. Maisel replicate this quality? Can they possibly make me love another season as much as I did the first two?
I have a feeling they will.
Images courtesy of Amazon