Watching and then subsequently thinking about ‘We’re Going to the Catskills!’ are two very different things. Watching the episode is an incredibly enjoyable experience, with some delightful direction, comedy, character interaction and two examples of doing a one-take scene in very different ways that make it worth watching for alone. It’s only in analysing and thinking back to it that one can see the problems.
Written and directed by Daniel Palladino, the episode sees Palladino the director on fire, with brilliant comedic staging, a superb visual tip of the hat to To Kill a Mockingbird, complete with use of Elmer Bernstein, and a dance number with the requisite fast-paced dialogue, brilliant dance choreography and all done in a single unbroken take.
Palladino the writer, however, over-eggs the pudding just a little, when in fact the episode should almost have the opposite problem. The direction should be overbearing but it actually stops the episode from falling apart altogether.
It almost seems churlish to complain too much, and I really don’t want to because the individual pieces here are brilliant, it’s just for some reason they never feel like they play together in the manner that the episode feels like it’s going for. It’s also not that Daniel Palladino isn’t talented. Two episodes from now he’s going to wear the writer and director hat again and deliver one of the best episodes of the season, it just feels as if many of the things that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel does so well have been put on hold for an entirely separate quirky comedy where the show is going on vacation.
Paradoxically, it works, and yet never gels with the rest of the series either (this probably doesn’t make sense and I apologise, but for the life of me it’s the only way I can describe it) and because of that the episode never plays back in one’s mind as entertainingly as it is while viewing it for the first time.
The good things here are really good. That one-take comedic set piece where the Maisels arrive at their house at the Steiner Mountain Resort and try to rearrange everything; all the while we never see what’s going on but just stay outside, and the static image of the house itself in front of us as everyone comes and goes is deliriously funny, with all the dialogue delivered via voice-over. It’s so good it may end up being one of the best moments from the entire second season.
It’s just – and maybe this is why the episode becomes more problematic in retrospective, especially after watching the next two episodes – why are we here at Steiner Mountain Resort for the next three episodes if the characters are still going to come and go to their usual life? They’re supposed to be there for two months (hence why we’re there for the next set of episodes) and while there are no spoilers here for the next two episodes, other things are going to happen that could easily happen if the characters were still in New York and not away to a location that feels as if maybe the series is trying to pay tribute to Dirty Dancing.
One expects former Gilmore Girls matriarch Kelly Bishop to come walking into the frame at any moment as her Dirty Dancing character, although no word of a lie, it would have been welcome at any rate, and it goes without saying that it would be wonderful to have the former Emily Gilmore show up in this world.
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We also get a new addition to the season in the now very bulky shape of Zachary Levi. With all that forthcoming Shazam muscle and more broader look to the one he displayed in the criminally underrated Chuck, Levi walks into the series as new character Benjamin with an aloof attitude and an equal level of indifference from Midge that you just know that the series is setting these two up for a courtship for the remainder of the season.
If the series goes that way, fine. Zachary Levi is wonderful and it is nice to see him play less of his usual brand of charming nerd (or at least it feels as if he plays those types of characters all the time). But we get the sense in the final scene, a strangely played one that is dripping with philosophical musings on forgiveness between Benjamin and Joel, that the series is going to try its hand at a potential love triangle. At least that’s the impression the viewer is left with. It’s hard to know because the scene itself between the two men is well written but it’s hard to know what it’s going for except trying to let the audience know the state of mind of Joel.
Michael Zegen is a fine actor for sure, but it’s hard to care too much for him given that he cheated on Midge. Yes, the trip to the Catskills sees Joel get some shade thrown his way because he and Midge are no longer together, but it’s Midge’s story and it’s her reactions to the shade thrown that is some of the best stuff here. Unable to partake in the swimsuit competition (remember, this is 1959 after all), and the butt of many snide comments from many others, it’s another lovely reminder from the series of how far back attitudes were in regards to things like that compared to now, and that while everything may look classy, and the resort may have its song and dance numbers and general level of quirkiness with its newsletter and changing fonts, there is still a level of ugliness to the attitudes on display.
The highlight of the episode, however, is Alex Borstein and her scenes with Brosnahan. The series reminds us of just how different Midge and Susie are and how they wouldn’t be in each other’s pockets if it weren’t for Midge’s ability to do stand up. Susie’s declaration that they aren’t friends, only to be presented with a friendship ring by Midge, is funny and touching. Susie may maintain that she and her client are not friends at all, but it’s hard not to root for them to be best friends.
Maybe there’s hope for them yet and it ends up being the best scene in an episode that is the series at its patchiest and yet most creative too. It’s a contradiction of an episode for sure. Not great, the weakest the series has ever been and yet with too much to recommend to dismiss it out of hand.