Review: 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

Nov 29, 2017
Originally published on November 29, 2017 5:58 am
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Amazon has a new comedy series which is about standup comedy. "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" takes us to 1950s Greenwich Village, where Mrs. Maisel discovers a gift for telling jokes after her marriage falls apart. NPR's Glen Weldon reviews the show which is from the creator of the "Gilmore Girls."

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: It's 1958 in New York City, the day before Yom Kippur. And Midge Maisel, played by Rachel Brosnahan, has everything - a big apartment on Riverside Drive, two kids, a husband who's successful in business, though he wants to be a standup comic.

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MICHAEL ZEGEN: (As Joel Maisel) Anyhow, this is a press agent talking to Abe Lincoln.

WELDON: Midge is supportive. She's smart and funny. She keeps a notebook with ideas for improving his act.

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RACHEL BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) You know, you don't really say hello to the audience. Maybe you should write a beginning, something that says who you are or something?

WELDON: The thing is her husband's stand-up act is actually Bob Newhart's.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL")

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) Bob Newhart is doing your act.

ZEGEN: (As Joel Maisel) What?

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) Bob Newhart - he's on "Ed Sullivan." He's doing your act. He must've come to the club one night and seen you perform. And now he's on television doing it just like you do. Well, it's a little bit different because he does it faster, which is better actually. But that's beside the point.

WELDON: Her husband admits it. Yes, he steals from other comics.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL")

ZEGEN: (As Joel Maisel) No, not steals, borrows. It's no big deal.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) It's not? When I found out June Friedman (ph) used my meatloaf recipe, I almost stabbed her in the eye with a fork.

WELDON: Brosnahan's pretty terrific here as she let's us see Midge's surprise and disappointment with her husband. Later, when the jerk leaves her, she grabs a bottle of kosher wine, takes a cab to a Greenwich Village coffeehouse, clambers on stage on a whim...

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BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) So my life completely fell apart today. Did I mention that my husband left me?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Woo-hoo (ph).

WELDON: ...And she kills.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL")

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) I gave him kids - a boy and a girl. And, yes, our little girl is looking more and more like Winston Churchill every day, you know, with a big yalta (ph) head. But that's not a reason to leave, right?

WELDON: "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino who patented a kind of ratatat (ph) style of a dialogue on "Gilmore Girls." On "Maisel," the dialogue's still clever but less breathless. You can still feel the DNA of "Gilmore Girls" here. You've got a woman and her imperious mother lurking in the background.

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MARIN HINKLE: (As Rose Weissman) We need to talk about the baby.

WELDON: Midge's home life is half the show.

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HINKLE: (As Rose Weissman) That forehead is not improving.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) What? Are you sure?

HINKLE: (As Rose Weissman) It's getting bigger. The whole face will be out of proportion.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge Maisel) Yeah, but look at the nose. It's elongating now. See?

HINKLE: (As Rose Weissman) The nose is not the problem. The nose you can fix.

WELDON: The other half takes place in 1950s' coffeehouse culture. So if her stand-up act doesn't seem hilarious to modern sensibilities, it does feel right. It fits that era of comedy. Yet, the show keeps insisting how brilliant she is which gets a little old. Her manager gushes.

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ALEX BORSTEIN: (As Susie Meyerson) She is impulsive and intuitive and hysterical. And I think she's going to be big.

WELDON: And later, when we learn that one of her admirers is none other than the groundbreaking comic Lenny Bruce, well, you kind of want to tell the show to just relax. And when it does, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" makes for an intriguing mix - part "Mad Men," part "Inside Llewyn Davis," part "Gilmore" - not marvelous, not yet at least. But then, if they'd called it the very promising Mrs. Maisel, it would have been a lot less catchy.

Glen Weldon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.