Amy Sherman-Palladino has done it again. As the creator of the famous dramedy series Gilmore Girls (2000-2007), Sherman-Palladino is known for writing rapid-fire dialogue, all while combining pop culture references and quick wit in her shows. Although Gilmore Girls is her most widely known work by the general public, her newest television series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, has gained her the most critically acclaimed success. All four of her Primetime Emmy Awards—Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series, Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Music Supervision—have been for the Amazon Prime hit The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and in season three Miriam “Midge” Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, keeps paving the way to her own destiny.
This season the show continues to perfectly bundle American mid-century society, hilarious wit and revolutionary character arcs to create a show that allows viewers to escape from the real world. Now that isn’t to say that the characters are perfect because they are far from it. Midge’s transgressions, for example, include an arrest for public indecency in season one, an ongoing “friends with benefits” tryst with her ex-husband, and the matter of outing singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) to his hometown in season three. Midge, it seems, still has a lot to learn about being a standup comedian and a stand-up person.
And that is just what season three is about, Midge and her manager Susie, played by Alex Borstein, navigating their way through the big leagues of show business. But the slight failures along the way really show us that the characters are human. The characters are somehow like us. Midge doesn’t just get to stardom overnight, but she fails and tries again. She has one of the biggest flops of her career in the beginning of season three, when she opens for Shy Baldwin in Vegas. This is completely new territory for her, and if she didn’t flop it would just seem unnatural and unbelievable.
But she does, and her manager Susie makes her get back on the smaller stage in the gambling room to get her “juice back.” This relationship between entertainer and manager is at the center of the show, but what it really signifies is two women empowering each other at a time in history, where women weren’t seen as powerful. In the 1960s, women were seen as housewives and caretakers. Here, Midge is defying the norm, which is what makes her character arc so delightful. She starts as a housewife and caretaker in season one but soon decides to take charge of her own life. She is “weird” as her mother Rose Weissman, played by Marin Hinkle, says in the Catskills episodes.
However, one thing that adds grit to this season is that everyone in Midge’s life is being inspired by her boldness, and all are deciding to take charge of their lives as well. Midge’s father, Abe Weissman, played by Tony Shalhoub, quits his job as a Columbia professor to become a political activist, and Rose turns down money from her sexist family in the midst of her and Abe’s financial crisis. Midge is so confused by her parent’s sudden attitude changes that she asks them what is going on.
“You are what’s wrong with us,” said Rose. “I was very happy being me. I didn’t need to be equal or stand up for myself. I was fine. I’ve gone my entire life with other people making all my decisions, and I loved it. You put this in my head. You made me passionate and independent and broke.”
In addition to her parents’ attitude shifts, her changing life has impacted her ex-husband Joel Maisel, played by Michael Zegen, as well. In everything, Joel is still there to support Midge. Of course, they do have two kids, so they are basically glued together for life, even though they are divorced. Joel starts to support Midge from the sidelines as she embarks upon her first tour as a comedian. He starts to see first-hand the sexism that occurs, and it gets under his skin. He doesn’t like it when people tell Midge she won’t be successful because she is “too pretty,” or when they sexualized her in the “Panty Pose” episode without her knowledge. He begins to understand sexism, in a way he wasn’t able to before. Of course, avid viewers of the show know all too well that Joel will always love Midge, and many viewers are waiting to see where that storyline will lead in season four.
Although there are the delightful character arcs that come with season three, there is one overarching problem according to numerous critics. The characters, situations and overall show are low stakes, but what these detractors of the show are forgetting to realize is that the majority of television shows are in the low stakes category. Most people are just used to seeing the high stakes shows be successful, and although some may argue there isn’t much at stake, they have to look through the eyes of the characters in the context that they are living.
Time period plays a big role in the things at stake in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. For a housewife to become a stand-up comedian in the 1960s is a move that shows risk and independence. It is Midge telling the world that women should stand up for what is best for them. It may not be the high stakes that critics are used to, but it is still a bold move. Of course, she does still live in a white world of finance and privilege in the Upper West Side, but that shouldn’t negate all of the other qualities of the show. Also, we see that Midge is trying to understand her privilege and she is slowly learning how the world works, while she is on tour. She doesn’t take her privilege for granted, and she still faces the hardships of sexism in American mid-century society.
Moreover, that low stakes feel is perfect for the 1960s because that was the American culture during that time period. In the 1960s, most things were kept light-hearted and swept under the rug, so the low stakes feel adds to that mid-century mood. A show shouldn’t have to be high stakes to be considered well-executed. Afterall, people use television and movies to escape reality, and that is exactly what the blissful universe of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel allows its viewers to do—get lost in a world of dream chasing, hilarious wit and empowerment.
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