In its first two seasons, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” served up so much retro style and sass that the series charmed fans, earned Emmy and Golden Globe awards, and helped boost the profile of Amazon Prime Video’s series, which have generally been overshadowed by fellow streaming platform Netflix’s originals.
But the good vibes also brought backlash, as some criticized creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (“Gilmore Girls”) and her husband and creative partner, Daniel Palladino, for indulging in stereotypes, a lack of diversity and a central character whose own beaming self-regard was mirrored by others who practically tripped over themselves to sing her praises.
(To stream: Go to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season 3 at Amazon Prime Video)
Based on the first five episodes made available for preview, in Season 3, the Palladinos thought about the complaints, made a few stabs at addressing them, and then generally carried on with the show’s trademark snappy banter, fabulous outfits and comic approach. The result is both charming and frustrating, entertaining but a tad underbaked.
As Season 3 begins, Midge Maisel (Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan) is forging ahead with her stand-up comedy career. The year is 1959, and the 1960s are right around the corner. As a female standup, Midge is a trailblazer. She’s got a sweet gig, going on tour as the opening act for singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), a Johnny Mathis type who travels with an entourage that includes his band, backup singers and a manager, played with exuberant charisma by Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”).
As usual, Midge’s career doesn’t seem hindered by the fact that she’s a mother of two small children, since her understanding soon-to-be-ex-husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), is on hand to watch the kids. Midge’s family circle also includes her parents, Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose (Marin Hinkle), and Joel’s parents, Moishe (Kevin Pollak) and Shirley (Caroline Aaron), who are still presented as broadly comic Jewish stereotypes.
In fact, rather than dialing down the stereotypical humor, Season 3 seems to ramp it up, as we also get Mafia stereotypes, Chinese stereotypes and ‘60s-style beatnik stereotypes.
We also don’t get any sense of who Shy Baldwin really is, or what it might have been like for an African American singing star to play for predominantly white crowds in Las Vegas, and other stops on the road.
Not that anybody watches “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” for a hefty dose of social commentary, but we hear more about Midge’s brisket than we do about possible discrimination that Shy might encounter.
The terrific Alex Borstein also returns as Susie Myerson, Midge’s do-it-yourself manager, and Borstein is so good it’s a shame we don’t get a sense of what else she might want, other than supporting Midge. Does Susie, for example, ever want a relationship?
Maybe it’s a sign that the characters in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” are, for all their flaws, so likable that we want more sense of their inner life in Season 3. Banter is fine, but the show could use more scenes where the quipping stops, and characters are allowed to quiet down for a minute and feel something. It’s not a coincidence that one of the best scenes in Season 3 comes at the end of Episode 5, when two characters say a good deal by what they don’t say.
Carping aside, Season 3 has its pleasures, which include, as always, Midge’s color-coordinated, accessories-to-die-for ensembles (there’s an apt joke about her ridiculously huge wardrobe); the totally capable cast; awareness of the casual sexism that was an accepted part of life in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s; some snappy writing (“By the way, irregardless is not a word”); vivid production design, from a Vegas casino to Miami; and Luke Kirby’s lively performance as Lenny Bruce, though it would probably have been better to make him a Bruce-like, fictionalized character, since the career and ultimate fate of the real Bruce feel out of place in the escapist, glossy world of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
More of our coverage:
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” streams on Amazon Prime Video beginning Dec. 6.
— Kristi Turnquist
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