When it was originally on: 2017-present
Original network: Amazon
Where you can stream it now: Amazon
Had I seen it before: I’ve seen all of Season 1. It was okay, but didn’t impress me enough for me to watch Season 2.
What IMDb says: A housewife in the 1960s decides to become a stand-up comic.
Why I picked it: There really isn’t any other Amazon Original that has achieved the relevance of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The closest is perhaps Transparent, which won awards and made waves in critics’ circles, but never seemed to have the mainstream popularity of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. In addition to winning a bunch of Emmys, including Outstanding Comedy Series in 2018, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is actually the kind of show that people in my day-to-day life seem to watch and recommend. If I was to have any Amazon programming at all, I’d be remiss not to feature this one.
What I liked: I had forgotten how well this pilot establishes Midge’s day-to-day life before presenting her with the show’s central crisis, i.e. her husband leaving her. Roughly half of this pilot is just Midge and Joel living what appears to be happily-ever-after married life. They have kids. They have friends. They go out and fun together, usually by way of Joel’s floundering stand-up comedy career. Midge is a supportive wife. She’s charming enough that we want her to be happy even if she isn’t particularly fresh or interesting. She has a set routine, and we become intimately familiar with it. We know how important this routine is to her. We understand how Midge can’t picture her life any other way.
So when Joel rips the rug out from under her, it actually means something. We can feel it the way that Midge does. I mention this because a LOT of tv pilots tend to have a rather dramatic inciting incident in them. Maybe a character dies, maybe a couple breaks up, maybe someone loses their job. Either way, the point of most tv pilots is to say life WAS this way, but now it’s going to be THAT way. The problem is that if this change happens too quickly, it means nothing. If we’re going to understand a change, we need to understand the before AND the after. This one does that brilliantly.
What I didn’t like: This is definitely one of those pilots that isn’t 100% committed to being a comedy or a drama, and so it fails at being either one. Now, it’s no worse in that regard than any other show by Amy Sherman-Palladino, so if you can tolerate it in Gilmore Girls I think you’ll be able to tolerate it here. For me, I wish the pilot had either a) been much funnier than it was or b) not tried as hard to be funny. Midge is likable enough and the story is interesting enough to carry this first hour. Unfortunately, the pilot seems to be elbowing me every two minutes to say “are you laughing yet?”
I also wish we could’ve gotten a better feel for why Midge married Joel in the first place. For as vivacious as Midge is, the fact that she ended up with a man who is as interesting as an empty manila envelope seems odd. Given that the pilot literally kicks off a monologue of Midge at her wedding, this would’ve been a prime example to tell us why Joel is amazing and we we should be invested in their love story. But instead it’s just a tool for lazy exposition. Midge talks as much about her fat college roommate as she does about her husband. Their love story is underwhelming, not really getting any deeper than “I met him, and now we’re getting married.”
I also just don’t find Midge’s end routine to be nearly as funny as the people in the bar do. I can see how this bit would be hard to write, as it needs to funny enough to show potential while still being rough and raw to the point that Midge has to work and get better. But I honestly don’t see how Midge’s drunken escapades got the level of laughs that they did, and why it would be enough to make Alex Borstein want to invest so much time in developing Midge’s act. For what it’s worth, this whole inability to find Midge’s standup funny was the main reason I stopped watching the show.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not really. Again, I’ve already seen Season 1 and was unimpressed. But even the first time around I kept watching out of “people say it’s good, I gotta give it a fair chance” rather than genuine interest.