There are five new shows now screening on Amazon Prime. It’s what the streaming service calls its “pilot season”: You watch and vote, and perhaps your pick will get picked up as a series. I’ve watched Budding Prospects (a period piece based on an early T. Coraghessan Boyle novel), Oasis (a sci-fi drama), The New V.I.P.s (a raunchy cartoon), and The Legend of Master Legend (an intriguing drama starring John Hawkes as a superhero, based an a real-life figure), and I’m here to tell you that the winner in this batch is easy to pick: It’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino.
Set in late-1950s Manhattan, the show stars Rachel Brosnahan (House of Cards) as Midge Maisel, who is married with two children. Her husband, Joel (Boardwalk Empire’s Michael Zegen), is a suit-and-tie office drone with dreams of becoming a standup comedian; he and Midge spend their evenings haunting Greenwich Village nightclubs, where they wheedle for time on stage so Joel can do his act. Midge — ever the good, supportive wife — sits in the back taking notes on his performance; she thinks of what they’re doing as a partnership.
Joel, however, has other ideas, and because of this — combined with the fact that he’s a flop as a performer — Midge is almost accidentally propelled onstage herself. That’s the broad outline of the show, but the plot matters less than the dialogue and the atmosphere, which writer-director Sherman-Palladino delivers with vivid precision. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel does a terrific job of summoning up this bohemian era when folk music was the hipster’s choice and comedians ranging from Lenny Bruce (revolutionary rebel) to Bob Newhart (clever bestseller) were culture heroes.
While it’s likely that Sherman-Palladino is steeped in the work of early female standups such as Totie Fields, Jean Carroll, and Joan Rivers, she wisely avoided modeling Midge on any of these women, instead giving Midge her own voice — full of wisecracking, observational humor — and liberating Brosnahan to give a — yes — marvelous, open-hearted performance. She’s a woman who heightens her own neurotic-but-shrewd tendencies for comic effect when she hits the stage.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel features brief but strong performances by Marin Hinkle and Tony Shaloub as Midge’s parents, and Luke Kirby (Rectify) impersonates Lenny Bruce with welcome restraint. The show peaks with Midge onstage, leaving you wanting more, more, more. Vote for it, and maybe Sherman-Palladino will postpone a new season of Gilmore Girls to give it to us.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
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