November 13, 2018

‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Creators and Star Talk About Season 2

Photo from Amazon.

Telling the story of a 1950s Jewish housewife who becomes a standup comic, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” instantly became a fan favorite and a critical darling, earning Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Peabody and PGA awards and 14 Emmy nominations in its first season on Amazon. Season 2 won’t premiere for several months, but the cast and creators convened at the Television Critics Association press tour, where creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino and the cast talked about the show’s success and what’s ahead in a Q&A session.

Sherman-Palladino admitted that the pressure was on to keep the bar high.

“When you have a group of actors of this caliber, that means that the stories and the scripts and dialogue have to be of a certain caliber, otherwise we’re not doing them their service,” she said. “The pressure is always going to be higher and higher and higher.”

Star Rachel Brosnahan gave a brief hint about her character. “At the end of Season 1, we left Midge in a pretty triumphant moment.  She’s finally arrived into Mrs. Maisel, the standup comedienne,” she said. “I can’t say a whole lot about where she’ll head in Season 2, but good things can’t last long.”

Although Midge is estranged from her husband Joel, “You’ll definitely see a lot of their attempts to co-parent, because the truth about their relationship is they will never be able to be without one another in some capacity and it creates a wonderful, dramatic tension,” Brosnahan said. “We get to explore a lot of the depths of their love, and all of its different capacities this season.  It’s complicated, and it always will be.”

Daniel Palladino said they’d received “a lot of really excited, positive feedback from the Jewish community from the very, very beginning. There are some inaccuracies, but when they call us out on them, they do it out of love and trying to help us.”

Sherman-Palladino elaborated later, telling the Journal, “It’s tricky because the religion has changed a lot in terms of how ceremonies are done. We get things like, ‘The prayer went like this” or ‘There wouldn’t be a call and response’–real minutiae—and they take it very seriously. Because we want to be true to who [the Maisels] are, we listen as much as we can.”

Jewish perspectives, elements and the link between Jews and comedy would continue to be the foundation of the show, she confirmed. “The thing about this family I wanted to make sure about is they are Jews, and Jews at the time were really shaping American humor. I feel that the hand of Jewish experience and cadence formed comedy and you can’t approach a story like this without that element,” she said.

As for the Emmy recognition, “I was so glad that so many of our wonderful people got noticed because everybody works so hard on this show,” Sherman-Palladino said. “It’s a runaway train and if one piece falls down the whole thing collapses in on itself. It’s a lot of people working at the top of their game and being completely committed to us, so hearing their names was incredible.”

Mrs. Maisel and the Jewish Revolution

Screenshot from Twitter.

I was delighted when “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” won the Golden Globe for best television series — but not for the reason you think. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is as Jewy as it gets. It is witty and humorous and deserves its award. But more than its laughs and giggles, Hollywood — and the rest of us — really need the very serious and timely message hidden in this overtly Jewish show.

We are witnessing a massive cultural shift in Hollywood and Western culture. For decades, abusive behavior and mistreatment, especially toward women, went unchecked. As the most powerful people in Hollywood summarily announced at the Golden Globes, “Time’s up.” The revolution is well underway.

The trouble with revolutions, though, is the extremist nature of revolutionaries. People who upheave society are not just rebels, they are zealots. Average people don’t take on city hall. Hollywood and Western culture desperately needed drastic change, and it took the strength, courage and near-recklessness of incredibly brave revolutionaries to inspire this transformation.

As is often the case with revolutions, initially the #metoo movement brought everyone together. But the subsequent hedging and handwringing by more moderate voices was inevitable. The pushback began. It was then followed by the pushback to the pushback as people quickly retreated from the harmonious center to their partisan corners.

“Mrs. Maisel” embodies the Jewish secret to resolving this vicious cycle.

In the show, 20-somethings Miriam and Joel Maisel are living out their scripted lives along with their two children in 1950s New York City. Everything changes when Joel confesses to an affair and Miriam, or Midge, as her friends call her, kicks him out. As per “the script,” Midge’s parents expect a quick reconciliation, but when Joel apologizes and begs for a second chance, Midge goes off-script and says no. Viva la revolución!

The trouble with revolutions, though, is the extremist nature of revolutionaries.

Midge’s rebellion leads her on a winding road to a bright future as a trailblazing female comic and a strong, powerful woman. The most impressive part of Midge’s personal cultural revolution is that her path is entirely original, yet she manages to include multiple parts of her previous, scripted life in her new life. In other words, Midge does not innovate at the expense of her entire past. She rejects all that is bad in the script and embraces all that is good. Her parents, her family, her fashion, her etiquette, her femininity, her Judaism and her sentimentality are all brought along into Midge’s journey.

In the season’s final scene (mild spoiler alert), Midge confirms her identity is independent from her past but also rooted in that same past when she creates her stage name: Mrs. Maisel. Despite the fact that she is divorcing Mr. Maisel, and despite the fact that she is an independent woman, Midge appropriates the name she was given and turns it into the name she chose.

In some ways, this frames Midge as a moderate revolutionary — a feminist hero toppling society’s conventions, gently. Midge’s foil in the show is her manager and adviser, Susie Myerson. She is the other kind of revolutionary. Susie is completely cut off from her family, she dresses and acts androgynously, and she has enough chips on her shoulder for herself and for Midge. There’s nothing gentle about Susie.

Some may think that a gentle revolutionary is weaker than a scorched-earth revolutionary. But the historic Jewish cultural revolutions of deity, ritual, philosophy, literacy and justice were not scorched-earth revolutions. We validated and valued the past while molding the present to create a better future. We have adapted and adopted from every culture we have visited on our 2,000-year Diaspora journey. We have created Judaisms that are unique to their time and place, interpretations specific to different academic spirits, and rituals that connect us to our surroundings. We are the gentle revolutionaries.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is the story of Jewish revolutions retold for a postmodern world. To inspire Hollywood’s cultural revolution, we needed scorched-earth revolutionaries. Now, to make Hollywood’s cultural revolution stick, we need gentle revolutionaries.

Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.