There are only eight episodes of the third season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I sort of knew this going in, but when episode 8 is stampeding toward its conclusion– with a re-enacting riff on “Casablanca”– the reality sinks in. Suddenly, you’re like Whoa, what? We were just getting started.
Amy Sherman Palladino and Daniel Palladino really set the standard in season 3 for set pieces, choreographed and directed. They invented a character based on Johnny Mathis, a closeted African American pop singer who makes the ladies swoon. Shy Baldwin is his name, and he takes Midge “Mrs. Maisel” on tour, giving her a taste of stardom. The Palladinos really worked hard on Shy Baldwin. His casting takes two actors, original songs, and a girls’ back up group a la the Shirelles. It’s also completely authentic.
Season 3 dazzles, and you do wonder how much money they spent on these shows. The 8 episodes are like 8 movies. But whatever they spent, it’s all up there on the screen. Just as the Catskills and Paris resonated in the 2nd season, Midge’s and Shy’s gigs in Las Vegas and Miami are lush and memorable. One of the great, inspired moments is Midge and Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby, still killing it) appearing on a closed circuit TV show called “Miami After Dark” with a Hugh Hefner type host.
There are a lot of guest stars and cameos in this season. Jane Lynch figures prominently as Sophie Lennox, the crass comedienne who wants to star on Broadway in “Miss Julie.” Sterling K. Brown appears as Shy’s manager. Jason Alexander makes the most surprising turn, as a former playwright turned recluse who figures in Abe’s (Tony Shalhoub’s) pivot from math professor to theater critic. (You’ll see.) By episode 7, the stage is full of characters, almost too many, which shows how much the Palladino’s have created Midge’s extended world. What a gang!
But it’s the core group that pulls this show along, they are by far the best ensemble on TV or maybe anywhere. From Midge (the glowing, buoyant, unruffled Rachel Brosnahan) and Susie (Alex Borstein, channeling spirits) to Joel, his parents, Midge’s parents, Zelda the maid, the effervescent Mrs. Moskowitz, and so on there is never a false note. This season, the Weissmans lose their Columbia University-owned six bedroom apartment on the UWS and are invited to stay with the Maisels in their palatial Forest Hills home. Talk about clashing cultures. The Weissmans are phony snobs. The Maisels are unbridled, the Costanzas with money.
We must stop here to mention that the nature of Rose Weissman’s (Marin Hinkle) family wealth is finally revealed: Oklahoma oil wells, drilled by her grandmother. (Yes, they are Jewish immigrants from Russia.) This entire episode is so bizarre and hilarious, it’s some kind of Mel Brooks psychedelic kaleidoscope filtered through Mad magazine. It also gives Hinkle an episode in which she shines like crazy.
Scenes are stolen and scenery chewed by all the main players and even some supporting ones. When Susie’s sister Tess explains how their mother died, I don’t know how actress kept a straight face. (You also realize later her character’s name is Tess Meyerson, which I don’t think is a coincidence.) And how about Wally Shawn locked in a windowless room in Sophie’s house, writing her jokes? And Kevin Pollack, as Moishe Maisel, sending up “Downton Abbey” (what is a weekend?), or Caroline Aaron as his wife, Shirley, as an injection of Woody Allen-esque humor? And there’s always Midge’s shiksa sister- in-law who is constantly muttering Yiddish and reeling off her vast knowledge of Judaism. (I adore her.)
So where are episodes 9 and 10? I do feel we were short changed. Season 3 is perfect, but stops too short. Maybe they just ran out of money (the dresses look like they cost a million bucks, some have already gone to the Smithsonian). But this is what will keep us coming back, these cliffhangers, and episodes full of detail and ornamentation that read like ancient tapestries. “Mrs. Maisel” is a dessert cart of many sophisticated flavors. We will always want more.