Amazon has announced its slate of seven, promising new pilots for the spring, but there’s one clear frontrunner (from my little corner of Tablet, anyway).
My endorsement for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel begins with the fact that the show is the brainchild of the incomparable Amy Sherman-Palladino, whose signature hit Gilmore Girls possesses complicated, deeply human, and tremendously lovable female characters along with dense and inventive dialogue that both verbose viewers and actors love alike. Rachel Brosnahan, who was nominated for an Emmy her role in House of Cards, plays the titular character. Tony Shalhoub also stars.
This show is basically like if Phyllis Diller’s life happened to Joan Rivers. Because Joan Rivers was actually an actress who wanted to be a serious tragedienne on Broadway, and Phyllis Diller, while a housewife when she began her legendary and unlikely career as a stand-up comic, wasn’t actually Jewish (although we’ll take her.) And look at the description, as offered by the producers!
It’s 1958 Manhattan and Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan, House of Cards) has everything she’s ever wanted – the perfect husband, two kids, and an elegant Upper West Side apartment perfect for hosting Yom Kippur dinner. But her perfect life takes an unexpected turn and Midge discovers a previously unknown talent – one that changes her life forever. She charts a course that takes her from her comfortable life on Riverside drive, through the basket houses and nightclubs of Greenwich Village, as she storms the world of stand-up …a course that will ultimately lead her to a spot on Johnny Carson’s couch.
But the reason this story is so important isn’t just because of the fun nods to real-life characters or the ethnic color of the Upper West Side and its elegant Yom Kippur dinners (are we talking before-the-fast or break-the-fast? Amazon should really clarify). It’s that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel sounds like the perfect inversion of the contemporaneous showbiz fable we’ve had presented to us so many times before, almost always by Jewish writers: The talent of the young husband can no longer be held back, no matter how much his spoiled, unsupportive, conformist (re: Jewish) first wife or fiancé tries to make sure he lives out a colorless existence selling insurance or being a podiatrist or whatever makes her feel safest; he then ascends the heights of the entertainment world that has been holding its place for him all this time, if only he can muster the courage to marry a hot young blonde and leave his family behind. (There are so many examples of this I don’t even have the energy to list them all; please mentally fill in your favorites, or amalgamate them all into one.)
Now, for the first time, in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, we’ve finally reversed the stereotype. What does it mean for a woman—an upper-middle class Jewish woman, no less—of the 1950s to have ambitions outside the home that must be fulfilled, to have talents that cannot be denied, to realize there’s something more that’s hers for the taking, and to actually go out and take it rather than mope around the house neglecting her children while we all silently judge her? (We, as a culture, seem very comfortable with sensitive depictions of female frustration; less so female success.) Finally, finally, the shoe will be on the other foot. Let’s just hope Amazon decides that it fits.