One of the most charming new shows of the year drops on Wednesday, a last gasp of 2017 TV before the top 10 lists start surfacing. It’s about the magic of standup comedy, it’s about a woman waking up to her own powers, it’s about the tail end of a culturally oppressive era, and it’s about the anarchy and opportunity of New York City.
Called “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the Amazon series is from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. It takes place in 1958 Manhattan, and I am pleased and surprised to see how Sherman-Palladino’s trademark rocket-speed dialogue works so naturally in a period setting. The lead character, Miriam “Midge” Maisel, played by the sparkling Rachel Brosnahan, is a smart, extroverted Jewish woman trying to be the best wife and mother on the Upper West Side. She makes a killer brisket, she’ll only appear without her makeup and curlers while her husband is asleep, and she schedules her family’s days to a T. She is the loving daughter to a pair of big, difficult characters who live in the same apartment building — her brusque professor father, played by Tony Shalhoub, and her neurotic mother, played by Marin Hinkle.
Midge really ought to be a comic; her timing is impeccable, her honesty is fierce, and her material is fresh and edgy. Alas, it’s her hack husband, Joel (Michael Zegan), who’s pursuing standup at a Greenwich Village club.
Eventually, Midge winds up taking the stage, lays some raucous jokes on the crowd, and triumphs. She may be a Joan Rivers in the making. She attracts a manager, played by Alex Borstein, who gives her the encouragement she needs, and the journey — complete with a soundtrack of old standards — begins. The entire supporting cast is aces, with the likes of Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron as Joel’s peculiar parents, bringing laughs to the world Midge just may be leaving behind.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.