Final Thoughts: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Series Three)

Life is going well for Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan): her career in stand-up comedy has taken off, slowly on her way to becoming a household name, and she has managed to become the opening act for popular crooner Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) as they entertain troops at a USO show and then go on tour from Las Vegas to Miami, with scrappy manager Susie (Alex Borstein) in tow. But Midge also has her divorce from Joel (Michael Zegen) to deal with, as well as dealing with her breakup from Benjamin, the loss of her childhood home, and the news that Susie has also chosen to represent her rival Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), and elsewhere, Joel begins work on a new club that comes attached to an underground gambling den and a new relationship prospect with the mysterious Mei (Stephanie Hsu), Susie tries to divide her time between Midge and Sophie while trying to coach the latter and deal with her difficult nature for a move to legitimate theatre, unemployed Abe (Tony Shalhoub) gets involved with a group of young communists and starts work on new pieces of writing, and Rose (Marin Hinkle) deals with the patriarchy of her hometown, continues to struggle with Midge’s new choice of lifestyle, and is driven to her wits’ end while having to live with Midge’s boisterous in-laws.

While the first season of this Amazon original was great, though occasionally a little bumpy, and the second season was an absolute triumph, Mrs. Maisel series three falls somewhere in the middle as it doesn’t quite reach the very high bar set by season two, but it still remains one of the most colourful and highly original series out there today and it soars thanks to its incredible production design, smooth direction, gifted cast, and its top tier writing that all comedy/drama series should strive to emulate.

As it was with the previous two series, almost all of the episodes are both written and directed by Amy and Daniel Sherman-Palladino (with one episode being directed by someone else) and their work on the show truly is brilliant and the show owes much of its success to their wonderful writing and smooth direction; the writing works so well because, importantly for a show centred around comedy, it’s very funny and the dialogue is just so snappy, fast paced and often really smart – the opening episode being a perfect example since it gets the audience laughing and entertained right from the off; the husband and wife team have managed to create so many superb characters who are endlessly fun to spend time with, reintroducing series regulars while also giving us some new ones, and in the slower moments, the more emotional writing hits hard with its many twists and shocking revelations and it’s clear that overall, they strike an ideal balance of both intriguing drama and utterly hilarious comedy. Seeing as how there isn’t a whole team of different writers working on the project, there’s a clear narrative vision and throughout the series, the plot progresses in a natural way, the show continues to include plenty of feminist themes and makes sure that the particularly capable, smart and increasingly independent female characters are front and centre (while at the same time, devoting equal time to the great male characters, not openly attacking men and broadly painting them as total scumbags like the totally misguided Black Christmas (2019) did), and the writers ably manage to tell several side stories that focus on three or four main side characters and these are all balanced well, giving the supporting characters their moments and ensuring that the plot doesn’t get overstuffed as it did in series one.

But saying that, there’s a plot point in episode two that focuses on Rose going home to Oklahoma and sees her try, in vain, to gain a seat in her patriarchal family’s business, losing a potential place to an inexperienced male teenager, and while this could’ve provided Rose with a meaty storyline, this plot thread only appears in the one episode and I would’ve really liked to have seen more scenes like that since it would’ve given Rose the chance to evolve, to be more proactive, and to take charge of her own life. There’s also an episode that features the “Miami After Dark” late night talk show but this sequence truly confused me as I was uncertain of what was going on (it must’ve been a sixties pop culture reference/phenomenon that I wasn’t aware of), thinking it to be too much of a narrative detour, and it also hinted at a romantic relationship between Midge and Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), but I didn’t buy into this as they’re surely just friends and colleagues.

Mrs. Maisel has always been an incredibly bright and colourful experience right from the beginning and series three is no exception as we are treated to another visually stunning series that makes use of some new locations, such as Las Vegas and Miami, and once again, the costumes, music and smooth direction all contribute to making the show such a great experience. The show continues to be quite theatrical as it always appears as though the characters are always just about to break into song and dance (one episode even begins with a synchronised swimming routine set to Singin’ in the Rain‘s “Good Morning” but this is abruptly cut short by a grumpy character – gleefully tearing down the musical/theatrical genre that the show was surely inspired by) and the direction is particularly effective because a great many scenes are filmed in long takes and in these segments, the camera manages to glide and flow through the scenes quite marvelously. The era-specific soundtrack continues to be a treat and all in all, Mrs. Maisel is surely one of the best looking shows out there as there’s just so much colour, it’s all filmed wonderfully, and the period costumes are incredible.

The show also shines bright because of its stellar cast and back in the leading role, Rachel Brosnahan continues to never put a foot wrong as she truly embodies the character and delivers another commanding performance that impresses so much; she completely nails the comedy as her jokes and zingers always hit their marks and her offhand comments never fail to make us smile, and in the slower scenes, she effectively conveys plenty of other emotions such as frustration, insecurity and melancholy, ultimately giving a remarkably well rounded performance that’s full of passion, humour and heart. Alex Borstein also returns as “rough diamond” Susie and this series serves her particularly well because she has more to do than in previous outings and her character gets so much more development; as before, she shows us how tough, crude and cutting she can be but she’s clearly a grafter who’s willing to do whatever it takes to bring success to her clients and in addition, the series lets us see the more “human” side of her as she clearly cares about Midge and feels bad about taking Sophie Lennon on as a client and as she makes some bad decisions at the end of the series, we see her at her lowest ebb and Borstein really sells her character’s despair and sadness, resulting in a particularly strong performance from the actor.

Returning players Michael Zegen, Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle, Jane Lynch, Kevin Pollack, Caroline Aaron and many others also bring their characters to life and continue to impress greatly in their roles and as for the newcomers, Leroy McClain can be perfectly affable and warm as singer Shy Baldwin, while also later appearing a little more unstable and flawed as he goes through some critical events and reveals a big, unexpected secret, Stephanie Hsu is wonderfully enigmatic and confident as Joel’s new love interest Mei, sharing some electric chemistry with him as they initially butt heads and then later warm to each other, Cary Elwes is a lot of fun as Sophie’s highly regarded, hoity-toity theatre co-star, and Sterling K. Brown has an important part to play as Shy’s manager Reggie – he initially appears as a harsh and unforgiving stick-in-the-mud who never smiles but he goes on to reveal a hidden heart as he reveals his caring feelings for Shy and delivers an end-of-season bombshell with so much emotion and power.

Another brilliantly written and skillfully directed season of the acclaimed comedy/drama, Mrs. Maisel continues to impress with its entertaining and emotionally affecting storyline, continually developing and entertaining characters, and wonderful production design.

★ ★ ★ ★