One of the many reasons that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel swept every comedy award last year, and deserved to sweep every comedy award, is that it wasn’t just a comedy.
Mrs. Maisel returns Wednesday, when season 2 premieres on Amazon Prime, and once again it’s funny, but not only funny.
Rachel Brosnahan, as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, could almost carry the show herself, imbuing a privileged 1950s housewife with other-worldly energy and carbon-steel tongue as she morphs into an unfiltered standup comedienne.
It’s almost a bonus that the rest of the cast falls right into that manic rhythm and makes their scenes as delectable as Midge’s.
The second season picks up where the first season left off. Midge, who finally scored a successful gig after some bad nights, has her triumph muted by the unsettled situation with her estranged husband Joel (Michael Zegen).
Without getting into spoilers, “unsettled” remains a recurring theme this time around, and not necessarily just for Midge and Joel. In fact, “unsettled” sends us on a road trip to Paris.
That’s a shot of dramatic adrenalin all by itself, and creator/writer Amy Sherman-Palladino doesn’t miss the opportunity to mine the comic vein of Midge Maisel’s New York meeting avant-garde Paris.
This plot turn also sweeps up Midge’s parents Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose (Marin Hinkle). They become heightened versions of themselves and at the same time avoid becoming caricatures, which is essential when a show wants to remain more than jokes.
While not everybody gets to go to Paris, there are consolation prizes for those left behind. Midge’s manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) remains in New York and gets a great subplot that’s a little tangential to the main story, but clearly was way too amusing not to have incorporated.
Susie quickly morphed into a great character the first season and she hasn’t lost a step.
Midge’s standup bits in this episode have a different tone, and get a different response, than some of her earlier scenes. This is a good thing, because while we’re rooting for Midge, we don’t want to feel like we know her whole flight pattern before she’s even taken off.
In the same spirit, since part of the original premise for the story is marital tension, we know there will be good days and bad days before everyone comes to some sort of long-term accommodation.
There are jokes there, lots of jokes, comfortably sprinkled amidst the visceral pain. Kind of like real life.
Brosnahan hits all the right notes on both sides of the emotional aisle. We accept that in the middle of a crucial moment in a family crisis, she could be distracted by a passerby in an attractive hat.
The French setting gives Mrs. Maisel some rich visual possibilities, although this isn’t a BBC epic and we don’t get sweeping panoramas of the City of Lights. More often it remains faithful to its stylized 1950s look, from the bright lipstick and men’s hats to the sepia tones of a bistro and a quartet of street musicians featuring a standup bass.
It captures the feel of Paris the same way it captures the 1950s feel of New York’s Greenwich Village. Toward that end, it mixes authentic ’50s pop songs with re-creations and originals that keep period music playing almost constantly.
Mrs. Maisel scored in its first season by telling a relatable, witty and generally heartening story in an engaging and entertaining way. It has no reason to change course, and the season 2 train seems to be right on track.