The Marvelous Mrs Maisel: Why the 1950s period comedy is the most important TV show right now

Hilarious, angry and life-affirming, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is an unmissable TV series about a 1950s Jewish housewife who swaps domesticity for stand-up comedy.

Last updated: 5 December 2018 - 9.42am

Tucked away between the humongous blockbuster thrillers (Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan), bombastic motoring (The Grand Tour) and dark dystopian dramas (The Man in the High Castle), is Amazon Prime Video’s secret weapon – The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.

Sweeping the boards at the Golden Globes and the Emmys, the period comedy comes from the pen of Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and stars an effervescent Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam 'Midge' Maisel.

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The show’s heroine is living what appears on the surface to be a picture-perfect 1950s life at the start of the series. Married to the dashing Joel Maisel, she has two kids, a wardrobe as big as Macy’s and the status to be able to jump the line at the finest Jewish deli in town.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel season 2

But when Joel’s part-time comedy career crumbles and he reveals that he’s been having an affair with his secretary, Midge’s world is turned upside-down.

[Read more: The best new shows streaming on Prime Video now]

After polishing off her drinks cabinet, Midge ends up stumbling onto the stage at The Gaslight Café, the home of Joel’s failed stand-up stint.

Her X-rated set is full of fire, sass and soul and not only does it get her arrested, but it also brings the house down. She attracts the attention of curmudgeonly Gaslight employee Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein). She may be the polar opposite of Midge, but she soon starts managing her new friend’s career and forms an unlikely bond with her client.

The following battle between Midge’s old life and family, animosity towards female comedians and Midge's natural stage talent plays out across the first season and looks set to continue into season 2 and beyond.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel season 2

Bang on the money with its feminist rhetoric and brimming with comedy zingers, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is one of the most important TV shows of recent years, exploring the anger and resentment of generations of women with unrivalled style, humour and wit.

Season 2 premieres on Prime Video on Wednesday, December 5 and a third season is already confirmed, so there’s a long journey and a lot more laughs coming very soon.

Watch this if you loved

Gilmore Girls, Mozart in the Jungle, Bunheads, Mad Men.

3 reasons you will love The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

1. "Why do we have to pretend not to be hungry when we’re hungry?"

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel season 2

Maisel is packed full of quotable one-liners, but the penultimate episode of season one features arguably the most piercing and savage stand-up set from Midge.

Ditching her usual skit about her parents' sex lives, Midge launches an attack on the hugely successful comic Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch).

Raging at the sourness and falseness of Sophie, Midge commits what looks like career suicide by outing the comic as a fraud.
The mic-dropping rage brings the house down and gets her blackballed from every comedy club in town, but delivers a moment of seething poignancy.

"Sophie gave me a piece of advice," Midge fumes. "She told me that no one would find me funny unless I do some big wackadoodle character - or have a ****.

"Why do women have to pretend to be something they’re not? Why do we have to pretend to be stupid when we're not stupid? Why do we have to pretend to be helpless when we're not helpless?

"Why do we have to pretend to be sorry when we have nothing to be sorry about? Why do we have to pretend not to be hungry when we're hungry?"

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is laced with glorious feminist moments, where Sherman-Palladino taps into an inner fury, but unleashes it with humour and bite.

2. The dresses! The music! The history!

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Mad Men set the bar so high for New York period dramas it would be easy for shows to pale in comparison to the finer details of Don Draper and co. But The Marvelous Mrs Maisel never slips into the shade of any show.

From the glorious costumes – the wardrobe of Midge and her mother could fill out a whole year’s subscription to Vogue – to the sashaying, swinging soundtrack, Mrs Maisel is a feast on the eyes.

Sweeping us across Manhattan from lavish department stores to bustling delis, the show takes you on a whirlwind tour of 50s America. The contrast between the dinge and dank of the Gaslight Café and the shiny, idyllic apartments of Midge and her parents, runs parallel to the duality of Midge’s underground secret career and her technicolour, prim and proper exterior.

The series also adds a sprinkling of real-life characters from the 1950s stand-up comedy circuit and world of television (Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, Nichols and May), which helps bring to life the early days of showbiz comics.

Although Midge isn’t based on one single female comic, the influences of Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller run through Brosnahan’s performance.

3. You will fall in love with every single character

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Like a perfect stand-up comedy set, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel doesn’t waste a breath, squeezing out laughs and joy in even the smallest of scenes. Not a single character is wasted and the entire main cast could stand alone as a reason to watch this series.

Brosnahan’s whirlwind lead performance and Borstein’s foul-mouthed Susie Myerson may get the best lines, but every viewer will have their favourite side character.

Tony Shalhoub is perfectly cast as the buttoned-up Maths professor and Midge’s father, while Marin Hinkle is the ultimate scene-stealer as Midge’s perfectionist and withering mother. Even Michael Zegan, who plays Midge’s cheating husband Joel, manages to walk a fine line as he veers between pathetic and sympathetic - the spoilt rich kid whose dream of being a comedian is never going to happen.

Midge's infectious and giddy best friend Imogene (Bailey De Young), The Gaslight’s deadpan MC Jackie (Brian Tarantina) and Joel’s contrasting secretaries - the pencil-sharpening Penny Pann (Holly Curran) and grandmotherly Mrs Moskowitz (Cynthia Darlow) - are both beautifully drawn and add to the fun.

Even the brief cameos from comics performing at The Gaslight, from curious ventriloquists to baffling musicians, will leave you wanting more.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel season 1 is streaming now on Prime Video.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is released on Wednesday, December 5th on Prime Video.

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