The number of Emmy Awards accumulated by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is astounding – eight for its debut season and another eight for its second. A person is entitled to wonder, “For what, exactly?”
Well, the question is answered in the new third season of the series (streams on Amazon Prime Video), when you are awed by the lavishness of the production, enthralled by Rachel Brosnahan as Midge and Alex Borstein as Susie, and smile at the rapid-fire screwball conversations and insults. You are made a little weary by the structure, which allows for plot-less meandering side-stories. But you let it go, because you are still awed by the extravagance and exuberance of it all.
There is no show like it – the budget for a season could probably finance all Canadian TV for a decade. And then there’s the sumptuous styling. Other series have big budgets, but Mrs. Maisel has an urbane opulence that is astounding. It hits a sweet spot with the energy and opulence that is irresistible. It is its own world with its own rules.
When we last left the story, Midge was readying to go on tour as the opening stand-up act for singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), a Johnny Mathis-like figure with a string of sweet-crooner hits. This opportunity caused her to end her romance with Dr. Benjamin (Zachary Levi) and foolishly have a fling with her ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen). Meanwhile, Susie was considering a chance to also manage Midge's catty rival, Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch).
Midge and Susie are still bickering when Season 3 opens, but what an opening. Midge is doing stand-up at a USO concert for the troops. What the viewer gets is a concoction so elaborately staged you are flabbergasted by the choreography, movement and visual wonder of it. What you also get is filthy talk, as Midge tries out penis jokes on Susie that she could never utter on a public stage. This is one new element to the series – Midge as potty-mouthed, uproarious vulgarian.
Old elements remain, mind you. Way too much time is spent in later episodes on Joel’s venture into a nightclub-owning showbiz entrepreneur and then Midge’s mom Rose (Marin Hinkle) traipses home to the family oil ranch in Oklahoma to ask for more money. Even then, as you sense the time-wasting wandering from the core story, you are deeply impressed by the style of it all; the clothes, shoes, boots and hats are presented as ravishingly beautiful.
The second episode has the title It’s the Sixties, Man and that’s where the series is headed – into an exploration of Midge and Susie as explorers, discovering a new America. It’s Mad Men-lite territory, to be honest, and the storyline dodges some cultural issues in favour of droll comedy and deluxe visuals.
Midge and Susie discover that life on tour in showbiz is a tough learning experience. Their chutzpah can only take them so far. There are long, delightful scenes in Las Vegas and Florida, as notable for the visuals as the wisecracking banter between the two central characters. We also get the sense that Midge, as appealing as she is for her heroism and audacity, isn’t quite as surefooted when she leaves the comforts of New York City.
As ever, and this is where some critics and viewers find serious fault in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, supporting characters are given acres of space and time. Tony Shaloub as Midge’s dad, Abe, is given extravagant time to make long speeches about his bourgeois angst. “When did I become a man who has five closets? When did I become a man who wears two sweaters?” The show’s creators, Amy Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Daniel Palladino, are pushing their luck again, but are also aware that this is what the show’s fans will allow and indulge. This season, having Lynch on board often as the haughty and malicious Sophie, is perfectly allowable.
Come for the comedy and adorable heroine and stay for the dazzle and the wardrobe, while ignoring the maddening meandering away from the key storyline – that’s how this bizarre series accumulates Emmy Awards.
Also airing this weekend
60 Minutes (Sunday, CBS, CHCH, 7 p.m.) has a rare visit with the media-shy Adam Sandler, at his childhood home, with his close-knit family. Sandler has a new movie to promote, one that has him in a serious dramatic role. The L Word: Generation Q (Sunday, Crave, 10 p.m.) is the reboot of the pioneering queer series and this version promises to be a lot tougher and less glossy-pretty than the original.
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