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Mrs. Maisel Offers Comedy, Resilience, and Hope in a World That Needs It

Mrs. Maisel Offers Comedy, Resilience, and Hope in a World That Needs It

A street scene with Midge Maisel

“Comedy is fueled by oppression, by the lack of power, by sadness and disappointment, by abandonment and humiliation. Now, who the hell does that describe more than women? By those standards, only women should be funny!”

– Midge Maisel

In case you haven't yet binge-watched the newest season, now’s a great time to start...

In Rachel Brosnahan’s Golden Globes acceptance speech for her performance as Midge Maisel on Season 2 of Amazon Prime’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, her first round of thank you’s focused on the village it took to create the show, “a matriarchy, led by Amy Sherman Palladino” and the many other powerful women in leadership roles who make up the cast, crew, and production team.

The show, set in the 1950s, tells the story of Miriam Maisel, a Jewish housewife and mother whose husband, Joel, suddenly leaves her for his young and “dumb as a Brillo pad” secretary Peggy. After a failed evening at his side hustle as a stand-up comic (I’m not ruining anything by telling you Joel can’t do stand-up to save his life), he sloppily breaks the news to Midge, packs up, and leaves. An angry Midge cracks open a bottle of Manischewitz (intended for the break-fast happening the next day at her parents’ house), and makes her way to the Gaslight Cafe, where Joel had bombed earlier, to retrieve her Pyrex. She had bribed the stage manager with homemade brisket to get her husband an earlier time slot at the microphone.

Wearing a blue nightgown and drenched after walking back to the comedy club through the rain, Midge ends up on stage and inadvertently performs her first routine. She proceeds to tell her story as “the mad divorcee of the Upper West Side,” an identity that she not only owns throughout the show but expounds upon to audiences as she establishes herself as a comedian.

Midge Maisel’s defining characteristic – and much of her appeal – is her refusal to let any obstacle (and there are many) faze her. When she is pushed to the end of the lineup at a new club, she’s initially frazzled by the mustard that lands on her dress and fuming at the audacity of the club owner and the condescending attitude of the male comedians in the house. Finally on stage, and without hesitation, she takes down each comedian one by one, and still gets a bundle of laughs. For Midge, there’s always a work-around or a way to stick it to the man. She never allows the sexism she regularly encounters to stand in her way or get the better of her.

Despite her growing success and ability to overcome obstacles, Midge’s strength at times crumbles. Realizing just how much her life is in shambles, the tears finally flow as she recognizes all she’s lost: her husband, her independence, and a life resembling normalcy. But without fail, she picks herself right back up and continues to fight for her dream to recreate herself as a comedian.

After the truth about Joel’s irresponsible financial choices becomes public, Midge ventures out into the world to find a day job. Juggling two jobs, kids (with which she has a lot of help from her parents and housemaid Zelda), and a pathetic (almost ex-) husband, in a world that constantly doubts and tries to control her, Midge has a ton on her plate. And yet, she leverages every situation and shimmies to success, the last thing the world expects of her.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the joy so many viewers (including me) find in the Jewish components of the show – despite the botched ritual scenes and lack of character development and poor treatment of Astrid, a recent convert to Judaism. In particular, I love imagining myself as a member of the Weissman family. The outlandish arguments, the neuroses, and the many contradictions and tensions that are part of being Jewish in America all are captured with authenticity.

This show has me, a young Jewish woman navigating the world in 2019, and many of my peers hooked. The fun and aesthetically pleasing blast from the past gives me something to look forward to and obsess over: a woman’s story that empowers me. I’m happy to watch and re-watch the show’s 18 episodes – and find new delights each time I indulge in a binge.

Today, women are standing up, speaking out, and leading in places like never before. It is a moment that desperately needs our stories and our voices. Although Midge’s success forces viewers to suspend belief, this fantastical story offers us respite, hope, and hilarity in a world that needs it more than ever.

Emma Silver is the executive assistant to the president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Emma Silver

Published: 3/18/2019

Categories: Jewish Life, Arts & Culture, Family
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