It may be easier to binge on Mrs. Maisel’s brisket than on the eponymous Amazon show in which it is featured. The brisket is a running gag in the first couple episodes of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”—Miriam “Midge” Maisel makes a delectable brisket to bribe a nightclub booker into giving her husband, Joel, an aspiring comic, a primetime slot at the Gaslight Café. The Gaslight is a decrepit place, perfect for Joel, who has bohemian pretensions as he rips off material from famous comics like Bob Newhart. Throughout his painfully awful act, Midge takes impeccable notes to help him hone his timing.
At 26, Midge appears to have it all. She has a pre-war Upper West Side apartment, two adorable children, a husband who makes a good living and a wardrobe to die for. She’s a Bryn Mawr graduate who never intends to use her degree in Russian literature. But it doesn’t take long to see that it’s Midge, not Joel, who has the gift of gab—the elusive gift for making people laugh. She’s a rapid-fire talker who makes jokes effortlessly. Adding to that, she’s the perfect wife who wakes up in the middle of the night to remove her makeup and wakes up before her husband “to put on her face.” She has even landed the rabbi for her Yom Kippur break fast. Is there nothing this woman can’t do? She has superpowers particular to succeeding in Jewish Manhattan in 1958.
But early on in the series, things go spectacularly wrong for Midge. Joel announces that he’s leaving her for his dumb secretary. Her father-in-law, who technically owns her apartment, evicts her and she’s forced to move in with her parents, who happen to live in an equally perfect apartment two floors above. Midge appears to sail through these traumas until she breaks out a bottle of kosher wine, gets drunk and makes her way to the Gaslight. Standing in nothing more than a flimsy nightgown, she delivers a set that is comedic gold. It turns out her tragedy is fodder for her ranting monologue. Doe-eyed Midge has a disarmingly dirty mouth. Her accidental performance is not only laced with profanity, but includes her flashing her breasts to the audience. She is quickly arrested for indecent exposure and is bailed out by none other than Lenny Bruce.
“Mrs. Maisel” is thick with plot and leans on comic relief. In fact, I couldn’t wait for Midge to get on stage, so bored was I with her backstory. If I saw one more scene of her picture-perfect wedding, I was ready to hit the power button on my remote. Created by Amy Sherman-Palladino of “Gilmore Girls” fame, “Mrs. Maisel” is ostensibly a paean to early women comics like Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. But it misses the opportunity to highlight how difficult it was for a woman to break into comedy, an all-boys’ club rife with sexism and sexual harassment. Note the fictional comic Sophie Lennon, who is nothing more than a composite and cliché. Lennon dons a fat suit and feather duster to crack wise about her life as a Queens housewife. She tells Midge she needs a persona to make it. “You can’t go up there and be a woman. You have to be a thing,” Lennon observes without a drop of introspection.
But here is a distracting problem with “Mrs. Maisel”: even after Midge’s world falls apart, she still has a perfect life. She gets in front of a microphone and effortlessly, brilliantly riffs on whatever comes into her head. She barely gives a thought to her two small children, who are either with their grandparents or the world’s most accommodating babysitter. Midge’s life with her parents is not all bad either. Yes, her father is a grumpy math professor at Columbia who barricades himself in his study. Her mother is a social climber who regularly consults a fortune teller. But her parents’ peccadillos barely give Midge pause. Even when Midge is forced to work at the makeup counter in B. Altman’s, she has fun.
But where “Mrs. Maisel” really falters is in its Jewishness. Midge and family only accessorize themselves in Judaism. And their Judaism makes little sense. Midge is shopping for meat to serve the rabbi at a butcher who sells pork chops. Nobody seems to go to synagogue on Yom Kippur—in fact, Midge attends an exercise class the morning of Judaism’s most solemn holiday. She insists that she celebrates Hanukkah instead of Christmas, but I don’t believe her. All I’m asking for is some verisimilitude.
After bingeing on eight hours of “Mrs. Maisel,” Midge’s sharp tongue becomes blunt in its predictability. Joel is still a weasel. Both sets of Jewish parents are as stereotypical as they come. And Midge’s brisket loses its magic. As for Midge, I’m still rooting for her to get out of this sitcom rut and make it big on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” She deserves it after slumming at the Gaslight and in this mediocre series.