The opening moments of season 3 pick up pretty much where we last left the marvelous Mrs. Maisel: in the arms of her ex. Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) is quietly sneaking out of bed, careful not to wake Joel (Michael Zegen) up as she departs. And that’s about the last moment of silence we get from the loquacious former housewife.
Midge is preparing to head out on the road as the opener for singer Shy Baldwin (LeRoy McClain), and she’s taking her manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), along for the ride. “I’m going to have to teach you how to pack,” Midge tells Susie, who has upgraded to actual luggage but still carries her essentials in a crumpled paper bag. And both women are certainly set up for growth this season. Amazon Prime Video has asked critics to keep the details of season 3 vague, but it’s fair to say Midge has a lot to learn about life as a stand-up comic on the road, while Susie is still mulling over that offer to represent Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch). The series sings — sometimes literally, thanks to (occasionally overly long) performances by Shy and his prickly manager (This Is Us’ Sterling K. Brown) — when it focuses on these two women. Watching the duo learn how to play the slots in Las Vegas is a series highlight: “That shoulda been something!”
As for the rest of the Maisel crew, it’s win or bust. Joel wants to open a bar in Chinatown and gets some help from a local named Mei (Stephanie Hsu, plucked from Broadway’s Be More Chill). Win. Midge’s dad, Abe (four-time Emmy winner Tony Shalhoub), is still planning on leaving his two jobs, which means mom Rose (the woefully undercelebrated Marin Hinkle) is worried about money — and where they’ll live. Bust. Meanwhile, Joel’s parents (Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron) are enjoying life — and annoying their neighbors — at their new house in Queens. Win and bust. With the whirling dervish that tethered these supporting characters together out on the road, their individual stories seem, at times, adrift.
That lack of focus is more noticeable in Maisel than it would be on lesser comedies that don’t have the guiding force of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls). Mostly directed by Sherman-Palladino and her husband, Dan Palladino, the five episodes screened for critics ahead of the Dec. 6 launch are awash with meticulously choreographed scenes — from a lengthy single-shot sequence in the premiere featuring 799 extras to Midge’s catch-up with Imogene (Bailey De Young) during a ridiculous fitness class to a Miami nightclub performance right out of a Fosse movie. The episodes are peppered with small-but-intriguing insights into these characters’ lives before Maisel (Does Susie have a law degree?!) in a way that makes the world of the comedy delightfully lived-in.
The series remains full of magnetic charisma and talent. (Hsu and Brown ooze charm, even when they shouldn’t; Luke Kirby should win a second guest-actor Emmy for his work as Lenny Bruce; and Brosnahan saying goodbye to a hallway is one of the most touching TV moments of 2019.) But a few too many moments left me saying, in the words of Midge and Susie, “That shoulda been something.” They’re gorgeous, but there’s not a lot of there there — which is the last thing Mrs. Masiel would ever want you to think about her. B+