You can’t leave an artist with a paper and pencil in front of her and expect him not to doodle. You can’t leave a guitarist with a guitar and expect her not to strum. And you can’t leave Mrs. Maisel with a microphone and expect her not to go off on soul-searching, incisive rants. Sometimes, it goes horribly wrong – like when she accidentally reveals that her friend pregnant on her wedding day. After having spoken about having sex with the priest.
But sometimes, her stream of consciousness reaches levels that are far too incisive and relevant even for 2018, let alone the 1950s, where this show is based.
In Paris, at a bar, Midge is accidentally shoved onto the stage. With the help of translator, she starts what seems like an act of stand-up comedy, but ends on a painful note about her broken marriage. She’s no longer married, but kept the stage name Mrs Maisel, because it was ‘darkly ironic’. Perhaps this entire scene is a nod to Hannah Gadsby’s Nannette, where she changed the meaning of stand-up comedy.
While Gadsby believes that humour, in a way, keeps you from growing as a person and tackling your problems, Midge has a different take on it. She believes that humour is born when something horrible happens to you. But joking about something takes away its power to hurt you. “Comedy is fueled by oppression. By the lack of power. By sadness and disappointment, and humiliation. Who does that describe more than WOMEN!” she says, in another performance of hers.
Midge, and her manager Suzie, are still struggling to make it in the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy.
Midge, and her manager Suzie, are still struggling to make it in the male-dominated world of stand-up comedy. “She’s a comic? Who looks like that? She should be a singer. Or a juggler. Why doesn’t she learn how to sing?” Being taken seriously in the comedy circuit is a constant, everyday struggle for them. She gets told off for roasting the male comedians who’ve spent their lives recycling the same old sexist jokes.
“A bunch of guys who got into comedy just to get laid,” she calls them. Somehow, an American show based in the ’50s subconsciously managed to be incredibly relevant about the current #MeToo India movement, and the take down of AIB. She even gets dragged off stage for talking about pregnancy, because it’s a women’s problem and no one really wants to listen to it.
When Midge’s husband Joel left her, she discovered a raw talent inside her – that of hilarious self-expression. She struggles, falters, and chases this dream of hers. She could easily let go of it and lead a comfortable life. Suzie on the other hand, is dependent on this profession for a livelihood. Their vastly different social backgrounds are even starker in season 2. In spite of disagreements and frustrations with each other, their ambition and appreciation of one another keeps them together.
When Joel was pursuing a comedy career in season 1, he had a wife who supported him, encouraged him, and took notes for him. In spite of being from a privileged family, Midge has none of that, coupled with the social ostracism that a separated woman with children faces. Thankfully, she has Suzie, who balances Midge’s impractical flightiness with staunch practicality. And Midge makes Suzie much more affable and approachable.
So well written is this season, that in some places, it almost feels as if the characters were allowed to develop on their own, without any script writing. Midge’s mother, Rose Weissman, for instance, leaves a life where she feels underappreciated, and moves to Paris. Hers is the story of many women whose lives revolve around their families, and she breaks through the mold as she struggles to find herself.
Her husband, Abe, in spite of being a creature of habit and routine shows capacity to change and appreciate her point of view. Theirs is a progressive marriage, where even in spite of traditional gender roles, both partners are equals, and respectful of each other’s wishes.
So well written is this season, that in some places, it almost feels as if the characters were allowed to develop on their own.
Abe Weissman too develops as a character. Even someone as stubborn and resistant to change as himself, begins to question his career choices, and strives to be the idealist he was as a youth. As his wife is being reprimanded for asking young girls in the art class what their future prospects are from their arts degree, he stands by her, and says she was merely pointing out the fact that there are in fact, no female art teachers, and barely two female artists, who aren’t successful because people won’t buy art by a female artist.
Institutions such as universities are not proactive in addressing that by hiring female professors. The irony of them not being able to survive without the tuition fees of their female students is very visible even now, in many organisations and professions.
The greatest character development by far seems to be of Joel, who could easily win the award for Ex-Husband of the Year. He is appreciative, admiring, and nurturing of Midge’s talent. Nevertheless, he cannot go back to being her lover, or husband. After having watched her performance in season 1, he cannot become the butt of her jokes.
It is interesting to note that he is capable of supporting her and standing up for her in every situation, but the whole dynamic changes when they are husband and wife. Joel, nevertheless, must be lauded for recognising his own shortcoming and not being a cheerleader for Midge’s journey.
In spite of another eligible romance in the picture, Midge realises, through her friend and comedian Lenny Bruce’s ode to loneliness, that hers is a solitary journey. She’s afraid of being successful, but having no one to share it with. Women like Midge, who are open, honest, flawed, and speak their mind,are rare.
From a very young age, every girl is told to be pleasing, sweet, and non-controversial. Midge is one of the few women who refused to give in to this conditioning. They were made to give up on their hopes, dreams and personalities. This is not to say that Midge is perfect: she is far from it. And that is what makes the show perfect. It takes the phrase “Women can have it all” and throws it in the bin right from the first scene.
Featured Image Credit: Missfit Comics