The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2) ★★★★

The first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel introduced viewers to the world and life of Miriam Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan). A stereotypical upper-class 1950s housewife, Miriam’s picture-perfect life was upended when her husband Joel (Michael Zegen) suddenly left her for his secretary. In a fit of confusion, rejection, and anger, she winds up going to a comedy club he had frequented, doing a freestyle set, and starting off on a new path in life as a stand-up comic. Now, in season two, viewers are returned to this world as Miriam deals with her insane parents Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle), her manager Suzie Myerson (Alex Borstein), Joel, her rising career in comedy, and a few new entanglements that crop up.

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As the first season established, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a postmodern fantasy with touches of reality. It is a show that has a anachronism for a lead who traverses 1950s America as created by nostalgia and cinema. Every bit of the show’s production is inspired by this hyperreality, offering a lead who bounces about the screen like a young Audrey Hepburn, and a camera that is prone to long takes, tracking shots, and steadicam. The show often plays like a musical, without the accompanying music but tapping into the same otherworldly magic of the genre. Yet, even as The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel indulges in the luxuries of the comfortably rich and often neurotic antics of its characters, it never loses sight of reality. The flashy camera movements and the pop culture reference are included as winks to the audience, purposefully calling attention to the nostalgia-laced fantasy in which the characters exist. It is then that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino slowly pokes a hole in this facade, waking up every character from this world.

This is, after all, a show that started with a woman in a dream world. She had the husband, the kids, and the family. Now, as she traverses the single life and the world of comedy, circumstances have changed dramatically for Miriam. The second season of the show continues this journey, but also finds her brushing shoulders with its consequences. She often becomes selfish and disconnected, viewing herself as the center of attention at all times. It costs her many friendships, and she is forced to confront the hardships of the world unlike ever before. Sherman-Palladino and the writers are constantly highlighting just how ignorant Miriam is of the world’s troubles, as she underestimates the cost of bills or struggles to understand Suzie’s impoverished circumstances. Yet, just as quickly as she encounters these issues or faces sexist and/or cheap club owners that impede her career, she is able to return to her luxurious life with her parents.

For her, comedy is a convenient safe zone. She remains shielded from true punishment, always able to run away to her secure lifestyle or call Joel to extricate herself from a sticky situation. Whereas others deal with hunger or poverty, she is still a woman whose worst issue in this season is which man to choose – Joel or rich doctor Benjamin (Zachary Levi) – and having to reveal to her rigidly conservative family that she is a comedian. Miriam comes from immense privilege, yet it is that privilege and her brushes with reality that build up to the season’s finale, where she must decide if her safe life is enough, or if a few chances must be taken.

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This is a battle everyone must face in life, and in season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel it is one of the main themes. Does one choose financial security or their dreams? Miriam’s parents struggle with this, book-ending the seasons with their personal issues and the decisions they made. Rose runs off to Paris, taps into her dreams of being an artist, and confronts her lifeless existence. Abe confronts his perceived failure, his distance from his children, and the disappointment of his dream job. Meanwhile, Miriam’s ex-husband Joel balances his regrets over cheating with his growing career at his father’s business. Meanwhile, he is being forced out of that company by his father, Moishe (Kevin Pollak), to pursue his dreams instead of working there. It this need for fulfillment and the question of  pursuing one’s dreams that propels the show forward in season two. This element somewhat rips the series out of its fantasy world, demonstrating the impracticality of its characters lives as one that can only occur in dreams. Thus, at some point, they all must wake up and discover whether they have been living in an illusory haze or truly living as they had wanted.

As the show explores these characters and devotes great time to all of their arcs, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel proves not only relatable and moving, but incredibly funny. Much of the season takes on the form of season one, offering sharp wit, frequent and hilarious Jewish humor, and terrific comedic acting. Tony Shalhoub and Kevin Pollak particularly stand out in this, disappearing into their characters and capturing their often obsessive behavior with great levity. Alex Borstein is once again terrific as Suzie Myerson, delivering  some of the funniest lines of the season and proving a perfect comedic foil to the energetic Rachel Brosnahan. The addition of Benjamin (Zachary Levi) as Miriam’s new romantic interest is a great benefit to the film’s comedy as well, offering its lead someone just as charming to bounce off. Overall, there is no episode that ever slacks or offers a lackluster experience, all delivering frequent and consistent laughs that cement this as a terrific comedy.

These bits of wit are bolstered by scenes headlined by Brosnahan as Mrs. Maisel performing her stand-up, offering sharp observations and commentary on the life of women in 1950s America. Her career is thematically strong in exploring the comedy scene of the 1950s – Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) makes a welcome return this season – as well the sexism a woman comic would have faced if they behaved like Miriam. Her television debut in the episode “Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy” is wonderfully realized, standing out amongst the best routines of season two. The magnetism of Mrs. Maisel is in full view, capturing the “next big star” title she has been given in the the most definitive way yet. Even if her comedy routines can sometimes be the most hit-and-miss of the film’s jokes- sometimes intentionally- it is this debut that stands out in Season 2, finding her persona take shape as Brosnahan and Sherman-Palladino bring out exactly what makes Mrs. Maisel a great comic.

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While the sharp wit and stand-up routines are the most plentiful in the season, one of the most interesting turns in season two comes when the characters head to the Catskills. Not only does it exemplify the fantastical, disconnected lifestyle led by both the Weissman’s and the Maisel’s, but it offers a refreshing change  in style. The humor remains and Miriam does a few stand-up routines, but otherwise, the three episodes- “We’re Going to the Catskills!”, “Midnight at the Concord”, and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”- operate more as a comedy of manners. As characters sing the resorts song, as they partake in the various entertainment options, or as they go about their routines, the episodes mix in that trademark wit but also find hilarious results in sitting back and silently mocking the excess of the upper-class. This is not too uncommon for the series as a whole, but never quite in the volume of these three episodes. By the end, these episodes in the Catskills stand out as some of the funniest of the season.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel continues to grow in season two. Off the heels of a wonderfully funny and charming first season, the show returns with similar results. However, this time it is bolstered by the developing character arcs set up in Season 1 that give it great depth. The entire cast continues to take shape, while the facade built around their lives and the show itself is slowly pulled away to reveal the emptiness therein. No one comes away completely satisfied this season, either left to suffer in their dream-like haze or finally waking up to realize the unpleasant necessity for change. It is a season that asks how one truly achieves fulfillment in life, whether by pursuing their dreams or by remaining in a state of secure comfort. Effectively balancing the drama this provides with its light-hearted atmosphere, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel proves even more affecting in Season 2. With a terrific comedic and dramatic cast, infectiously energetic camera work, and strong writing, Season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a rousing success.

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