Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel Review

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Now that I have all my self-promoting postings out of the way, it’s time to come up with some general interest posts – an old man conversing with the clouds sort of thing.

Our credit card company gave us three free months of Amazon Prime, so my wife and I took the opportunity to watch a show that I had heard many positive things about, the 4.3 star rated The Marvelous Mrs Maisel. This is a review of the first two seasons and three episodes of the third.

About the reviewer: How any reviewer rates a work depends upon what the reviewer values in the medium. A reader needs to know what the reviewer is looking for in order to judge the value of the review for their purposes. What I value starts with relatable, likable characters – they are pretty much a necessity for me. A coherent, plausible plot, where the action flows from the characters and their situation is also very important to me.  Since I primarily read and watch fiction for the purpose of escape, I value humor, and mostly enjoy light and witty fare. For a visual medium, I’d like good cinematography and sets. This review reflects my tastes.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel

Since this show has been around for four years, I don’t think there is any need to delve deeply into the premise – a wealthy young Jewish woman decides, after her husband walks out on her, to become a stand-up comedian in New York city in the late 1950’s. There are currently three seasons of the show, with a fourth being filmed.

The cinematography, location shoots, and sets are excellent, and evocative of the time. Five stars.

I did not grow up in NY city, nor do I have any experience with the Jewish lifestyle portrayed in the show. Being Jewish is very much a key element of the show, and so it needs to be addressed. It struck me that the way the show portrayed its Jewish protagonists bordered on stereotyping them. Being a modern show, I assume that if this was the case, objections would’ve been made. None were, to my knowledge, so I'll assume that they are authentic people that have been somewhat exaggerated, for comic purposes to create a colorful portrayal of that sub-set of NY city life. As such, I found it interesting to see how these people lived.

Which brings us around to the individual characters and their actions. I found Joel Mainsel’s decision to leave his wife, the inciting incident of the series, unconvincing. The explanations offered for the abrupt action didn’t convince me that it was in his character to act the way he did, with the provocation the writers provided. Of course that plot twist was deemed necessary to the story, so necessity must be served. For that reason I’ll give it a reluctant pass. The same can be said for Mrs Maisel’s mother’s sitcom-like flight to Paris. It was just plausible enough for me to go along with it, though clearly, it was  less about the character and more about the writers needing something different to write about, and a new location to film. Susie and the gangsters are interesting characters. Lenny Bruce wasn’t funny – nor were any of the other comedians. Indeed most of the stand-up comedy routines were not funny. Maybe you had to have been there...

Still, all in all, we enjoyed the first season a lot. The show began to fall apart in the second season. The action moved to the Catskills and a summer camp for wealthy adults, where the whole Maisel family spends two months each summer. A minor point: at this time Mrs Maisel was working in a department store. How a part-time employee could swing two months of vacation is a mystery. All I can say is, nice work if you can get it.

In any event, I found it amazing that places like that resort existed, (and still do?) and that there was a class of people, who were not multi-millionaires, but who had the time and money take two months off each summer go to an expensive camp, where they were fed, entertained, and otherwise catered to. The humor was probably down a peg from the first season, but it was still pretty entertaining – while they were at camp. If the series had ended with the Labor Day dance, it would’ve been a four star show for me.

But it didn’t. It went down hill fast from that episode, in part because the characters began to do things that were not in their character. They had become the mere puppets of the writers, who seem to have run out of realistic ideas for the show going forward. As a result, the writers had them doing things that simply made no sense.

If the characters, especially Mrs Maisel’s parents, had began the series almost like caricatures of well off New York Jews at the beginning of the show, by the beginning of the third season they had been reduced to furniture – stage settings – to be moved around at will to serve the silly plot the writers concocted in search of laughs. Nothing they did made organic sense. Mrs Maisel’s father would never have given up his tenured position at the university, no matter how burned out he was, especially with a sabbatical available to him, something that he had earned. He wasn't an idiot. Sorry, the beatnik/radicals in the show for two episodes weren’t motivation enough. Or humorous.

And his wife would never give up her trust fund – the only other source of income after her husband gave up his job. Give it all up because she couldn’t be on the board of trustees? Really?

These characters were simply being moved around the set willy-nilly, as the writers desperately tried to keep the show “interesting” – in a soap opera/sitcom hybrid sort of way. They only way this type of writing could be justified would be if it delivered laughs. It didn’t. Their predicament wasn’t funny, and since it was so contrived, wasn’t drama either. It was just dumb.

And then we come the Marvelous Mrs Maisel herself. Yes, she grew up in wealth and privilege, with a room full of clothes, and so she could be forgiven in the beginning of the series being bright, breezy, confident, and self-centered. But, as the show progresses, she experiences the underside of NYC life, where people have to struggle to survive, where people are oppressed and marginalized. She occasionally sees how poor her manager is, and yet none of this seems to make much of an impression on her. She doesn’t grow in the story, remaining blind to the plight of others, selfish, and self-centered. And never more so when it comes to her two young children.

I have to wonder why they included the children in the show in the first place, since they seem to get in the way of  the story – when they weren’t being completely ignored – which was most of the time.

At the end of the second season Mrs Maisel instantly agrees to going on a six month tour, never considering, even for a moment, who will look after her children when she is on tour. She simply assumes that someone, other than herself, will look after them for her – as if it was due her. (As someone has been doing all along.)

Now, I’m not saying that this isn’t necessarily an unrealistic portrayal of a person like Mrs Maisel -- a person with a laser focus on obtaining fame and fortune and damn anyone who gets in his or her way. Perhaps we are meant to admire her for her ambition and drive. But even so, her failure to respond to her new life and grow as a person throughout the series – when she should’ve – makes her an increasingly unlikable character, in my opinion. I was no longer invested in her success. For me, this was a fatal flaw in the story, though it may not be for you.

The third season – of what we saw of it – went even further down hill. It was padded with a number of long, dumb, musical numbers, it wasted time on various not-funny interludes, and unrealistic situations -- the type of situations that exist only because characters, for some reason, don't talk about it to other characters. We gave up on the show after episode 3, as we no longer cared what happened to Mrs Maisel.

The Marvelous Mrs Maisel began well – bright, snappy, and funny – and went down hill, slowly at first, and then fast. Watch the first season – and maybe the second until the Labor Day dance. And stop. 

Final verdict: **

What's your take on The Marvelous Mrs Maisel?

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