Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Importance of Awards and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

If it weren’t for the Emmy Awards, I would never have watched “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

I’ll admit: I barely watched the actual awards show. I stayed long enough to see Henry Winkler earn his first (!) primetime Emmy award (and his wonderful speech*) I also saw two actors from GODLESS win: Merritt Wever and Jeff Daniels. Loved that he thanked his horse.

The next day, I read through the rest of the winners. What struck me was this show on Amazon that won not only Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. In fact, I think it won the most awards of the evening, taking home five trophies.

But what was this show about? My wife and I were intrigued, so we pulled up Amazon and gave it a look.

NOTE: The show is eight episode long. As of this writing, I have not seen the last episode, so I’ll be basing all my thoughts on the first 7 episodes. But that is enough.

Rachel Brosnahan stars as the titular character, Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish housewife who inadvertently discovers she has a talent for stand-up comedy. The show is set in 1950s New York, and Midge lives with her husband, Joel, and their two kids in an apartment a few floors below her parents’ apartment. Tony Shalhoub plays her father, Abraham, and in a bit of “Whoa, maybe I really am getting old”, her mother is played by Marin Hinkle. You might not know the name, but she starred as Jon Cryer’s ex-wife in “Two and a Half Men.” She’s a mere two years older than me...and she’s a grandmother!

As the show opens, it’s Joel who tries his hand at stand-up. He’s not good, but Midge dutifully takes notes during his performances, compiling a notebook full of ideas and lessons learned. After a particularly bad night in which he bombed, Joel informs Midge he’s leaving her for...his secretary. She gets drunk, wanders the streets, and ends up in The Gaslight Club, the very venue Joel just stank up. She gets up on stage, overcoat covering her nightgown, and proceeds to let it all out. Susie Myerson, playing a worker in the Gaslight, sees what Midge is capable of and convinces her to give stand-up comedy a serious go.

In what could have easily been a rote-type comedy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel vibrates with a joy not seen on the small screen in a long time. It’s a very New York show, complete with lots of Jewishness and talk about the town and society in the 1950s. This historian part of me loved it all. The clothes, the formal dinners, the evident ‘caste-like’ system is portrayed very well.

But what really sends this show over the top is the whip-smart dialogue. This TV show could easily have been adapted to a stage play, but the better comparison is the comedies of the 1930s movies. Think of the Thin Man movies or any of those films where the characters deliver their lines in a rat-a-tat fashion, always with the perfect comeback and precisely the best time. You will, um, marvel at how well these actors do their thing.

Brosnahan is a dream as Midge. Not only does she deliver the normal dialogue well, but when she gets behind the microphone to deliver her stand-up routines, she comes across as a natural. It makes me wonder if she’s ever had any desire or experience being a true stand-up comic. If not, she should definately try.

Tony Shalhoub is hilarious. I laughed out loud multiple times. And the chemistry he has with Hinkle is so palpable that you might wonder if they are not secretly married. Joel’s father is played in a wonderfully over-the-top fashion by Kevin Pollak. I know him best as the third person on Tom Cruise’s legal team in A FEW GOOD MEN, after Demi Moore. He all but steals every scene he’s in.

Every actor in this show is at the top of their game. I rarely binge, but there were a couple of nights when we’d finish one episode and, after a quick check of my watch, rolled right into the next one.

Awards are sometimes derided as things given within a group of people to bolster all those egos. I’ve never thought that. Awards, no matter the group, are intended to showcase good, quality things--in this case, TV shows--and let the world know some examples of good stuff.

I so enjoyed this show...and I never would have likely given it the chance were it not for all those Emmy wins. Well deserved, and highly recommended.


*Henry Winkler, upon winning his first primetime Emmy said, among other things, this fantastic line: “If you stay at the table long enough, the chips comes to you. Tonight, I got to clear the table.”

Let’s hear it for perseverance. And for continuing to show up.