There is a reason that Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino — the married co-creators of Amazon Prime’s smash hit “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — have twice won a record eight Emmys for the first and second seasons of the comedy hit. (Season 2 also just earned 4 SAG award nominations — the most for a comedy series — and a fourth season is in the works). The couple known for their fast-paced rat-a-tat-tat banter know how to put on a lavish show within a show that is all about entertainment and the sacrifices and benefits that is inherent in such a lifestyle.
Besides the fabulous period production designs, gorgeous period costumes — oy, the hats you will see — there are priceless inside-y looks at characters who echo real-life individuals whose marks on our culture can still be felt — from Jane Lynch‘s Phyllis Diller-like hick comedian to Luke Kirby‘s soulfully acerbic Lenny Bruce, both who justly won Emmys as guest actors for season 2.
The just-launched third season of the series packs quite a flashy punch right off the bat as a chorus line of energetic tap-dancing ladies in a massive Army hangar make like the Rockettes. Meanwhile, our heroine Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) performs a more polished version of her stand-up act at a boisterous USO show as a warm-up before going on tour with Johnny Mathis-style heartthrob crooner Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain). Sample joke: She could never join the Army because “I would never be brave enough to wear the same outfit everyday.” True that!
The show finally barrels into the ’60s with brassy brio and multiple servings of brisket with Midge’s soon-to-be-ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen) trying to open his own club in a rundown and rodent-infested Chinese restaurant that has a secret gambling den in the basement. As for her parents, Abe and Rose (Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle), they are scaling down their lifestyle after her dad quit his job at Columbia University, which provided their luxurious Upper West Side apartment.
Yes, there’s a surplus of storylines — as amusing that they can be — but the heart and soul remains having the privilege of being able hanging out with Miriam “Midge” Maisel and her feisty manager Susie (the show’s MVP Alex Borstein) as they hit the road and get up to high jinks in Las Vegas and Miami. Their footloose lifestyle of constant travel coaxes out some new character flaws in both but also brings the pair closer. There are plenty of reasons to plunge into the pool of elaborate choreographed musical numbers — what other show would feature an ode to Esther Williams — and pop references galore.
Here are six reasons to marvelously binge on season 3.
1. You get to know more about Susie. There are many more facets revealed about this brash character. Susie freaks out when she takes her first plane ride. The Rockaway gal also doesn’t know how to swim and lacks a suit but her client corrects that by teaching her how to doggy paddle in a hotel pool in Florida. And now that she has taken on Lynch’s Sophie Lennon as a client, Susie has to learn more about the art of talent management, which includes insisting on a “weird ask” in a contract. Her pick for Midge: That countless yellow teddy bears await her in her hotel room. She also casually drops the news that she is a lawyer.
2. The juicy and often naughty quips. Nothing is better than when Sophie, upset that she had to track down Susie, tells her: “The last time I had to track someone down was to tell Desi Arnaz he gave me the clap. The clap was worth it. This isn’t.” That can only be topped by another Sophie quip: “I have never had anyone look at me so coldly since I had my mother deported.”
3. Real-life era-appropriate celeb cameos. Among the actual characters who float by are 1959’s Miss America Mary Ann Mobley, a pipe-smoking Hugh Hefner-type character who hosts a late-night show cum cool-cat cocktail party titled “Miami After Dark” where Midge tags along with Kirby’s Bruce as he shares a couch with Zsa Zsa Gabor and Bella Abzug. Meanwhile, Kim Novak is seen trying her luck at a craps table. The best cameo comes courtesy of Wanda Sykes as stand-up comic Moms Mabley, who is one of the acts on the bill when singer Shy performs at the Apollo. But perhaps the most obscure truth-based persona is Carole Keen (played by Liza Weil, who was Paris on the “Gilmore Girls”). The world-class bassist with her hip white cat-eye specs is clearly inspired by real-life backing musician Carole Kaye, who was a key member of the ubiquitous back-up group of musicians, The Wrecking Crew.
4. More diversity in casting choices. Midge and her entourage of shoes finally step outside her privileged Jewish princess lifestyle as she hangs with Shy and his entourage. A prickly and intense Sterling K. Brown is a welcome addition as Reggie, the singer’s manager, and he even gets to share a duet with McClain. I could watch what he does with his face as he checks out his new barbershop haircut in a hand mirror on a loop. As for Zegen’s Mr. Maisel, he finds romance with a savvy Chinese medical student named Mei (Stephanie Hsu) whose inside knowledge helps him cut red tape and corners while setting up his night club.
5. A last chance to revel in the late Brian Tarantina’s acting gifts. This character actor, who died at age 60 on November 2, is allowed to expand his role as Jackie, the caustic emcee at The Gaslight comedy club where Midge got her start. The good news is that he gets a fair chunk of screen time after he sublets Susie’s minute utilitarian apartment while she is on the road and is her bunkmate when she has to be in the city to deal with Sophie matters. The sight of him wearing the fur coat that Sophie gave to Susie and Sophie’s reaction to seeing him sport it is enough to warm your heart.
6. The glorious audacity of the Palladinos to allow their main character to go back to square one. The times, they are a-changing now that Mrs. Maisel’s world is on the cusp of the Kennedy era. Both Midge and Susie are left rather adrift by the end of episode 8, the finale of season 3. But that just makes me all the more excited about No. 4.
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