Amy Sherman-Palladino’s quick-witted Amazon comedy returns for a Season 3 of beautiful dresses and chiffon-thin stakes.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has always had a lot more in common with any of housewife-turned-comedienne Midge Maisel’s (Rachel Brosnahan) cashmere sweaters than prestige TV. It looks fantastic, it’s warm, it’s cozy, and there are a hundred more just like it stuffed in a closet somewhere. Its first season is still its strongest, even as it comes back for a third.
Season 3 opens as Midge prepares to leave on tour to open for Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), a Sam Cooke–style crooner who could be her true launchpad to stardom. Meanwhile, Midge’s take-no-shit manager Susie (Alex Borstein) prepares to add a second client to her roster: Midge’s nemesis, Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch).
You’d think this would be the perfect setup to insert some serious tension in Midge and Susie’s relationship, but Amy Sherman-Palladino seems completely intent on keeping Midge’s life borderline conflict-free. A single spat, and an episode later, the two are thick as thieves, which has become emblematic of the real problem with the sugar-coated 1950s (now 1960) fantasy that is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
There’s no true conflict in the show. The speed bumps Midge hits are so rapidly resolved and forgotten, there’s no tension. Three seasons deep, we know the pattern now: she’ll nail every single show except one, which will be immediately forgotten by the next episode. The mere thought of Midge experiencing a negative emotion is so abhorrent to Palladino, the entire world of the show bends over backwards for her to fix it, no matter how completely implausible the resolution.
What’s most frustrating about this season is that true conflict is there, but none of it is being explored. Midge and Shy’s relationship makes a prime situation to explore the racial dynamics of the times or at least a way to acknowledge the fact that Midge barely interacts with anyone nonwhite, but the show doesn’t want to touch either elephant in the room with a 10-foot pole. A select moment or two nod in the general direction of the conflict, but nothing comes of it.
Meanwhile, Midge’s father Abe (Tony Shalhoub) has grown even more insufferable and the show refuses to address it, particularly how blatantly unfair it is that Abe’s wife Rose (Marin Hinkle) was dragged away from a liberating life in Paris in season two, only to have things only change for the worse thanks to Abe’s selfishness. Though for some reason Palladino decides to use Abe to ruthlessly mock youth culture when he decides to start a leftist newspaper with a group of beatniks, which feels strange and out of place especially in a time where it’s never been more obvious how much young people are on the front lines of change (March for Our Lives, Greta Thunberg, etc.). It’s so in your face it makes you wonder what teen pissed off this season’s writers.
Amy Sherman-Palladino seems completely intent on keeping Midge’s life borderline conflict-free.
And then, of course, there’s Joel (Michael Zegen). Oh, Joel… would that the Palladinos could get the hint that no one cares about you. Instead, he feels even more prevalent this season as we watch him try to open up a club in Chinatown and start a new relationship for reasons that are completely baffling. No offense to Stephanie Hsu who plays said love interest, though, a spirited gambler named Mei. She kills at a part that gives her barely anything to work with. (Why on earth is she interested in Joel? Who knows! And the show doesn’t care.)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel seems just as dead set on batting around the idea of Joel and Midge getting back together as it is on keeping whatever the hell either character really wants to be hidden from us. So little time is spent exploring how they feel outside of snappy one-liners in conversations with other people, that I’m not even sure what the show wants me to be rooting for.
Ultimately, the problems the show has had since day one have only continued to grow. Almost all of Midge’s failures are structured to be someone else’s fault (someone told her to make a certain joke, the audience was the wrong one, etc.) and so she seems to learn nothing, no matter how much time passes. Her standup continues to be painfully unfunny (Zachary Levi earned the only genuine laugh all season when he mocked his own height shouting, “I look like an angry building!”). Joel’s character remains wildly inconsistent (does he support her or not and why?).
It’s a mess. The only thing still neatly in place is Midge’s perfect coif, and three seasons deep, it’s never been clearer that this just isn’t enough.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel season 3 is currently available on Amazon Prime Video.