THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL Pilot Review: Amy Sherman-Palladino Finally Went Full Screwball
It's pilot season at Amazon, during which the streaming service debuts several new pilots and viewers have weeks to vote on their favorites, and the highest-rated will be brought to full series. It's a refreshingly democratic approach to the oft-brutal pilot process, and it's one that will hopefully be kind to Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's new pilot, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
The series takes place in 1958 Manhattan, and stars House of Cards' Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Maisel, the loving and supportive Upper West Side wife to Joel (Michael Zegen). Joel's a wealthy executive who also happens to be an aspiring comedian, but he'd be hopeless at both without Midge. Midge offers notes on Joel's acts and cooks briskets to bribe him into better spots at Greenwich Village open-mic nights, anything she can do to further what she sees as a charming hobby. It takes zero time for the audience to discern that Midge is the real talent here, but it takes Midge a little longer - with the help of a club promoter played by Gilmore Girls' Alex Borstein.
The period setting is really ideal for Sherman-Palladino, who has, until now, brought a screwy, zany, '50s sort of energy to two present-day series (the late, great Bunheads, in addition to Gilmore Girls). Brosnahan is another genius leading lady for Sherman-Palladino, ballsy and polished and split-quick with the dialogue. The series shares another quality with Gilmore Girls in Midge's tense relationship with her posh parents, played by Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle, though instead of enjoying modern-day WASP privilege, Midge and her parents are wealthy New York Jews, a world with which Sherman-Palladino is somewhat familiar through her own father.
The biggest difference between The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Sherman-Palladino's previous two projects is that Midge opens the series a walking vision of perfection, as was her obligation in 1950s America. Lorelai Gilmore and Michelle Simms are already comfortable semi-trainwrecks when we meet them (Michelle more than Lorelai, though Lor's got her fair share of baggage). When we meet Midge, she's still sneaking out of bed after her husband falls asleep to remove her makeup and put curlers in her hair, and then waking up early enough to reverse the process so he never sees her without her face on. She's measured her limbs every day for the past ten years to ensure she's still perfectly slim and symmetrical after two children. She's a planner - she planned this life to the tiniest degree, even giving the own toast at her wedding because who could do it better? So when events quickly spiral, forcing Midge off the path she has so carefully constructed for herself, we see a side of this woman that no one has ever seen before - least of all, Midge.
It's a fascinating journey, one that takes a giant step forward in the first hour of the series. Sherman-Palladino directs the pilot with efficiency and a sure hand, and it feels like the start of a much bigger, more interesting story ahead. It's a gorgeous show - the sets! the clothes! - and Brosnahan is a dream. It's a story I want to see more of, so watch the pilot and tell Amazon to keep making it.