The season two premiere of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel arrives as not only one of the most purely Amy Sherman-Palladino things ever put to the screen, but does so with a level of hype and expectation that its “Pilot” and first season hadn’t.
While there has been a sense that Amazon has maybe lagged behind the might of Netflix, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel became one of their first shows that could become a flagship series, one that became critically acclaimed, won awards and gained a sense of being an audience favourite. Going into the second season there is a sense that the series has some pressure on it shoulders.
Except, you will not find any feeling of pressure on the shoulders of the season two premiere, which arrives with typical bravado and confidence. Written and directed by Amy Sherman-Palladino, ‘Simone’ arrives with its dialogue, character development and plotting set at a hundred miles per hour and never slows down for a moment, even when it actually slows down.
For anyone who has watched any of Sherman-Palladino’s series before, either the incredibly popular Gilmore Girls or her one season wonder Bunheads, audiences will know that she has the wonderful ability to mix dialogue that feels like it should belong in a screwball comedy from the 1940s with complex characters and for that ‘Simone’ feels purely like her work that it never comes as a surprise to get to the 10cc backed end credits and see her name displayed as the writer and director.
Instead of lulling the audience in nicely as a way to catch up with the characters and where they are after that triumphant freeze frame that ended the first season, the episode throws us into the middle of drama involving Midge’s parents, Susie (Alex Borstein) getting abducted which promptly turns into the friendliest abduction in television history, while the majority of the episode takes place in Paris, for once actually being filmed in Paris instead of trying to make it work on a film backlot, with much in the way of back and forward dialogue.
The majority of the episode takes Paris as its setting, as Midge (Brosnahan, on top form as always) tries to bring her parents back together after her mum, Rose (Marin Hinkle who puts in great work here) takes off for Paris for a new life, so it gives us plenty of parental angst, a recurring theme in Palladino’s work, as well as an opportunity for some brilliant exasperated comedy from Tony Shalhoub as Midge’s father Abe who cannot help but be funny in that exasperated exhausting way that is so much fun to watch, like so much of the comedy in the series.
The set pieces and the comedy and the character interactions throughout are brilliant, funny and incredibly, and I mean this is the best way, exhausting. This being Amy Sherman-Palladino, the dialogue is delivered as fast as possible, filmed in brilliant long takes that takes the whole concept of walk and talk to epic extremes, all the while there are three characters talking at once to the point where it feels like it’s impossible to tune your ear into what’s being said, probably because one character is delivering dialogue in French (that is also a great thing, trust me).
It builds up to two brilliant crescendos. The first being Midge’s routine at Parisian Drag Queen Bar where the episode threatens to be a little tone-deaf in Midge’s reaction to seeing men dressed as attractive women but just about gets away with it (being set in the late-50s, I can never tell if the series is reminding the audience of the ignorance of its characters and their generation or is just the storytelling being problematic), while her stand-up routine has to be translated which gives us another prime example of dialogue being delivered super fast, this time by two people with one of them translating it into French.
It’s a glorious moment, but it builds to an incredibly emotive climax that leaves plenty of food for thought emotionally. We get a flashback to events that took place immediately after the final scene of season one in which Midge ran to Joel after his emotional reaction to seeing her routine, his reaction is to hand her his wedding ring, a scene which is then followed by Midge in Paris telephoning Joel (Michael Zegen) asking can they get back together.
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It’s a brilliantly complex moment that asks a lot of the audience and the characters. There’s almost a problem here in watching both these characters act against their better natures and at first, one almost can think while watching it that Midge is acting out of character here given how much she wanted to get away from Joel during the first season, but amazingly it works. Midge wants to go back to Joel. He says no because he pretty much says that he’ll want her to give up comedy. What starts off as a potentially out of character scene turns into something sad, brilliant and emotional and which comes as a real lump in the throat moment after fifty minutes of brilliantly frothy comedy.
Both Brosnahan and Zegen are superb here, the writing is raw and emotional and it’s a deliberate effort by Sherman-Palladino to bring in a level of complexity that one may not expect from the series given how colourful, classy and silly it can be. We go from comedy arguments to kidnappings which take a charming turn and eventually to a beautiful final scene that segues into an even more gorgeously mounted final shot which is as cinematic as anything Amy Sherman-Palladino has delivered before, and given how brilliantly the one take tracking shots are here, that’s really saying something.
For anyone who has never watched Gilmore Girls, to see a lead character do something which has you going “why are you doing this>”, welcome to the world of Sherman-Palladino. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and be treated to layered, complexities you never knew where there.
Welcome back, Midge. We missed you.