Gonna Make It On Her Own
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: Season 5
It's been a long journey for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The Amazon PrimeWhile Netflix might be the largest streaming seervice right now, other major contenders have come into the game. One of the biggest, and best funded, is Amazon Prime, the streaming-service add-on packing with free delivery and all kinds of other perks Amazon gives its members. And, with the backing of its corporate parent, this streaming service very well could become the market leader. show started back in 2017 and acted as something of a relaunch for series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's career (after the relative failure of Bunheads and the lukewarm reception of mini-series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life). This was the creator's chance to show she could tell her stories her way and people would love it.
And it did work... for the most part. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a show that, for good and ill, gives into all of Sherman-Palladino's impulses. She has fast-talking characters spouting off dialogue at a mile-a-minute, most of it interesting and funny. She has densely packed plot lines with a ton of overlapping characters and various A-, B-, C-, D-, and E-plots. And she has a richly crafted world with a lot of great settings, people, and ideas that you want to visit, again and again.
At the same time, though, the show is very high on its own supply. It is absolutely in love with its characters, even when they're annoying, irritating, or acting completely stupid. it has many who simply refuse to evolve, others that are given far more screen time than they deserve, and characters that simply will not go away even when most (or all) of their growth has already been accomplished seasons back. On top of that, it feels like the show took its sweet time to get to its final season, only to then rush through a bunch of story that, probably, should have been paced better. In short, it's a very Sherman-Palladino show.
This fifth season picks up, more or less, where the fourth season left off, with Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) at a crossroads in her life, trying to find a way to start up her comedy career, once and for all, so that she can make it big like she's always dreamed. Well, not always, as she was perfectly happy (at the start of the series) being a housewife with then-husband Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen), right up until the point where he leaves her for his secretary. Once she got a taste of being a comedienne, though, she wanted to be a star. So far, with all her trials and tribulations, things haven't quite worked out that way.
Her career, though, takes a bit of a turn when Gordon Ford (Reid Scott), and his team, come into the strip club where Midge performs (as their between-act comedienne). They see her, find her very funny, and with just a bit of arm-twisting from Midge's manager Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein), she's hired as a writer on The Gordon Ford Show, a late-night talk and variety show. This seems like Midge's big break... except that as a writer on the show she's barred from actually being on the show. What she needs is a chance to perform, on TV, for America... she just has to find a way to pull it off.
The overarching plot line for this season works pretty well this season. After it felt like the show was treading water in season three and season four, it does feel like the series found its feet again, finally. Not knowing if this was always the plan for the series, a five season run with this progression of story, it's hard to say if the show found its motivation because it was ending or if the ending was always supposed to come at this time. Whatever the case, placing Midge on the The Gordon Ford Show and having her get her big break there does feel earned. It works.
That doesn't stop her rise to fame from feeling a tad rushed, though. And its not just her rise to fame, but also rise in the esteem of her parents. While her ex-husband has seen her potential since the end of the first season, no one else in her life has really cared for her career as a comedienne. And yet, this season, over nine episodes, very quick resolves all those plot lines Her father suddenly realizes she's brilliant (in her own way). Her mother comes to terms with who she is as a person. She finds her way into fame. Everything just suddenly clicks into place, all at once, and it feels... less earned. Sure, five seasons of build up should set this properly, but maybe it would have been better for the characters to comes to these realizations over the course of fives seasons instead of in a rough nine episodes.
When it comes to Midge's time on the show, we don't see a lot of her talent as a writer that helps her earn her place on the show as a performer. In fact, that's a key plot point: she doesn't earn it. Instead, she has Susie strong-arm the producers (more or less) into putting her on the show. Instead of finding a way for Midge to organically earn her place, the writers apparently backed themselves into a corner and had to come up with a narrative McGuffin so that Susie could pull a string and, suddenly, Midge gets her break.
Now, Midge's performance on the final episode of the season, then one where she shows her talents to the world, is a pretty good set. Maybe not her best set (not to the rapturous level the audience seems to think, certainly), not in comparison to some of the absolutely hilarious performances she'd given in previous episodes, but it was a solid enough set for sanitized American television of the late 1950s. In that context, it worked and you could see how she'd become a favorite of talk show hosts (which was how many comedy performers got their big breaks back then, on talk shows). The last episode does a lot of heavily lifting for the narrative and that episode is solid... I just wish that the 48 episodes leading up to it (or even just the eight in this season) could have paced themselves better to make this rise for Midge feel more even.
I think part of my issue with the season is that, in a move that feels very self-indulgent, we get a bunch of flash-forwwards to Midge's time as a famous performer. At first I thought these were dreams Midge was having, fantasies about where she'd be once she made it big. Except they aren't, they're the life she will have, and that undercuts the narrative thrust of the show. Now we aren't worried about if she's going to make it because we see that she will. We know it because the show has already spoiled its own storyline. Midge gets to be as rich and famous as she always wanted, and, throughout the nine episodes of the season, we see it already having played out.
I get it, the creator wanted a chance to show us where she was in the future, what her life would be like after her big break. This feels like a story for a different season, though. Maybe a victory lap mini-series that the show wasn't going to get (it already ran five seasons, which is a lot for a streaming-only series). If we could have seen that after this season, instead during it, we might have actually been worried about the career moves Midge was making. There would have been tension, fear of consequences. But that doesn't occur. We don't get that because we already know where she'll end up.
That's why I say this last season is very self-indulgent: the creator is so in love with her character she can't help but give us all her future story before the main story is even done yet. Midge is a likable character, and the show can be quite funny at times. Hell, this season is a very watchable even wit its flaws. But it is flawed and I really had hoped this season would be better. Maybe that was foolish, after the series felt like it lost its way in seasons three and four. This season is a solid improvement over the last couple, and it gives its main cast a decent send off (all things considered). But as far as rising to the really solid levels of the first two season, the show can't quite find its feet. It's good, but not as great as it could have been.