At first glance, Season 4 seems like Midge regressing back to those early seasons. It’s not, and I’d argue, the fake-reset is just what the series needed
When The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel first debuted it immediately became an Emmy-award-winning darling with a series of outstanding nominations spanning from the years of 2018 to 2020. Considered one of the best comedies of its caliber, this in-your-face take about a Jewish female comedian in the 1950s who broke all the same rules that men’s stand-up comics were already renowned for, was nothing shy of an entertaining spectacle. It was sharp and funny and a testament to the quality that Amazon could bring to media… at a time when almost everyone had doubts about them finding a hit. This… was that hit.
The series hit all the right beats for the awards circuit. Witty dialogue? Check. Jewish Hollywood American Zeitgeist? Check. Solid performers and a stunning leading lady? All checks. Naturally, this had all the elements for it to be successful for years in riding the momentum as Amazon’s flagship series. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was to Amazon as Breaking Bad was to AMC, Stranger Things is to Netflix, or Rick and Morty is to Adult Swim.
And then… the pandemic came.
With this, of course, came a long pause in the series production. Over 2 years in fact. Which is more than enough time to have passed to let the pop-cultural algorithms forget about you in this day and age. As Midge, with her in-your-face snappy Gilmore Girls-Esque driven dialogue, and her misadventures of having too much of your comedy cake and eating it too became somewhat of an afterthought. At least, during a time where race riots were high, a disease plagued a large chunk of the world, and the redemptive year that was 2021… fizzled out; our promised roaring 20’s round 2 — a sentiment that would’ve worked well in the spirit of the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel — having never come to pass.
This is by no means of any fault to the series. But rather, I think that Mrs. Maisel’s less-than-stellar early reception for this season thus far is fairly congruent with the sentiment of the times. The people want change. They’re tired of seeing things play out exactly the same way. Which is why seeing the series seemingly regress backward has been off-putting. At least for critics. And fans. And anyone lamenting over how this series is now moving to an episodic-over the Netflix era binge-watching the entire season model.
Season 4 begins with a hard reset: where Midge has trashed yet again, her hopes of fame, by outing Shy Baldwin as gay in public during a set at the Apollo. At the same time, Susie needs to get her client’s money because the duo are essentially poor again. The two return back to living in New York. Rebuying the same old apartment. Performing at the same old nightclub. And living again with the same old judgemental family, whose own career pivots and character progressions: also, see them more-or-less exactly back to where they were in the city. With nobody ever really changing after the promise of so much of it when we left off…
While the second episode sees Midge back to barely surviving off the backs of others and promises and favors, it’s again recycling of seasons one and two. Gone is the go-get-em on tour progress of Midge showcased in season 3, all for this dreadful sentiment: that it’s more than likely over. But we the audience, honestly know that it’s not. The season just started. Midge will keep defying the patriarchal boys club and the double standards of comedy, as Susie, will hilariously find solutions to support her. It’s all the same beats we’ve grown to know from the past with an emphasis that Midge is going to no longer do the grunt work and will take the lead (which she’s already stated/proven several times over throughout the series). Though the first two episodes are also a means of refamiliarizing ourselves with the characters.
That said, the first two episodes do see some progress. Sophie Lemmon is still crazy but serves as a great tool early this season, in showing how far Susie has come along. That sure, managing Sophie was rather awful, but it gave Susie a reputation as someone who could get things done. Abe’s story this season is promising as it introduces audiences to that age-old dilemma of how to make a living off of art. And Joel, who seems to be the only one who’s actually continuing his path of growth and responsibility, is in a rather serious Jewish-Chinese semi-romance/semi-independence and relationship storyline that surprisingly has a lot of legs to it in that it’s going places; as compared to the rest of the season so far.
Still, it’s Brosnahan and Borstein that steal the show. Continually providing stellar performances that feel like they’re never failing their characters. The series is just as witty and funny as ever. Very much in the realms of the talk-a-lot dialogue creator Amy Sherman-Palladino is well known for. For what it’s worth, the show’s never forgotten its roots. As we see a lot of references are used in the pop-cultural American zeitgeist of the stereotypical 1950s Jewish New Yorker. The Coney Island Wonder Wheel. The typical Jewish family and marriage tropes like something straight out of a Woody Allen movie. It’s just somehow, watching this show feels slightly different… and the word privilege is thrown around much more today than it ever was circa 2020.
It should be noted, that I think what’s harming the show right now is that it took way too long to come back and keep relevant. There is just more content across every single medium than ever before. This series is no Ted Lasso or Fleabag. Nor does it have current buzz-worthy features such as Euphoria or Yellowjackets. This is not to say that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel should aspire to be these other series, but rather, that we’ve seen a lot of what the first two episodes provide here already. And it feels an awful lot like we’re going back to an earlier time in the series, at a time in the real world, where going backward by any means or fashion feels very off-putting for a lot of people.
But personally… in my opinion… Well, I actually think that this is the joke?
The cuckold before the cackle.
That what makes this season promising isn’t so much that we’ve seen it all before, but rather, that it’s the reacquainting of a story from years ago that we the audience, bombarded by all this entertainment these past few years, have likely forgotten.
I genuinely think what The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 4 is setting up is a rebuilding of this world that we’re only now just remembering. That the weekly releases were intentionally done to get us to remember why we love this series in the first place. To genuinely remember why we love to see Midge tear it all down.
Because if Lenny Bruce, both the legendary comic and in-series counterpart, can be his self-destructive self and get arrested and tear up a stage with truth bombs and no, no, words… why shouldn’t Midge?
That’s the key. We’ve been reminded who this show is and what Midge is doing. Now it’s time for our girl Midge to Fuck Shit Up.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Airs Fridays Every Day in March