It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas is around the corner, the drinks are flowing, and after striding onto our screens to critical acclaim in 2017, Amazon have gifted us an early Christmas present. Buckle up, because The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is back.
The series tells the story of Miriam “Midge” Maisel, the fierce, funny and foul-mouthed Fifties Jewish housewife at the heart of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the award-winning Amazon series created by Gilmore Girls showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino.
In season 1, we saw the indomitable Midge leave behind her privileged life in the affluent Upper West Side to try her hand at comedy in the smoky jazz clubs in Greenwich Village. This time around, the road to becoming a professional comedian takes a rockier turn, as her secret life starts to take a toll on her personal relationships.
Much has been made of the show’s feminist narrative, and many have pointed out that Midge is a problematic heroine. Measuring her thighs by day to keep track on her thinness, and removing her makeup when her husband’s sound asleep, this Fifties housewife hardly epitomises empowerment at the beginning of season 1.
But when Midge’s idyllic life is turned upside down and her husband leaves her for his doe-eyed secretary, Penny Pann, Midge doesn’t retire into the shadows. Instead, she storms the stage at the The Gaslight Café half-cut, unleashing her sharpest observations on her marriage, parental disapproval, and sexual politics. In fact, Midge’s would-be tragedy, when spun with her resilience and unapologetic spirit, feels like the best thing that could have happened to her.
This season, we start to see Midge’s feminist evolution. Our funny gal goes transatlantic, taking the stage in Parisian drag bars and mountain resorts in the Catskills to spin jokes about her deteriorating personal life. “Comedy is fuelled by disappointment and humiliation,” she spits at one point. “Who the hell does that describe more than WOMEN?” With her newfound independence, she begins to navigate the sexist world of comedy – not an industry that’s changed an awful lot, even by today’s standards.
There’s also the developing relationship with her talent manager, Susie (played by Alex Bornstein), who clash frequently over Midge’s reluctance to commit to comedy full-time. The course of female friendship never runs smooth, but to situate the duo at the centre of the show, surviving and thriving in a male-dominated industry, feels like a measure of radical change.
Midge isn’t always so sure how to reconcile her independence with the strict rules of womanhood of the era. When her father, Abe, oversees her performing in Paris, he orders her to conceal her newfound career at all costs. He also summons his wife Rose, who has embarked on a fun-loving Parisian life, back to New York to maintain the status quo as wife and mother.
When all’s said and done, Midge is slowly finding herself, and figuring out her feminism on her own terms. She’s flawed, complicated, and still seduced by her glamorous old life, even when she’s so clearly cut out for independence. Yet she’s writing her own jokes, working on the makeup counter at B. Altman, and forging her own destiny. And all of that’s ok.
Because in a society which expects her to stay silent, Midge’s supreme-self-confidence, sharp one-liners and very existence as a female comic is a defiant, well-manicured finger to the patriarchy. And if ever there was a woman to crush the pervasive question ‘are women funny’ once and for all, we could definitely rely on her.