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Back For Season 2, 'Mrs. Maisel' Remains A Comedy Of The Highest Caliber


This is FRESH AIR. This year at the Emmy Awards, one of the major surprise winners was the Amazon streaming series "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," which won for outstanding comedy series, comedy writing, best supporting actress and best actress. Season 2 of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" arrives on Amazon today. And our TV critic David Bianculli says the show deserved every Emmy it won. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" feels like several of my favorite TV shows in one. It's the best looking and most believable period series since "Mad Men," with settings, costumes and characters you love spending time with. It's got the rapid-fire, high-intelligence dialogue of Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing" or, more specifically, the "Gilmore Girls," since the creators of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, also teamed on that show. And it's telling a story set in the late 1950s that's perfect for today as well - the story of a woman finding her own voice.

In this thoroughly delightful sitcom, the woman is well-to-do New York housewife Midge Maisel, whose husband leaves her for his teenage secretary. Midge responds by voicing her anger in a new venue as a nightclub comic. Women comics were rare then, especially a woman who, like Lenny Bruce, who befriends Midge early on, speaks her mind and speaks very frankly. Midge is played by Rachel Brosnahan, who won an Emmy for her Season 1 performance. And it's easy to see why.


RACHEL BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Anyhow, Lolita found out, and, boy, was she steamed. She couldn't believe I'd have the nerve to sleep with my husband.


BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) She thought that was mean - and vindictive. And she has a point. After all, she has a teddy bear he won for her at Coney Island.


BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) All I've got is a wedding ring and two kids who called him Daddy.


BIANCULLI: For Season 2, which launches on Amazon this week, Midge Maisel is at the start of her upwards trajectory as a comic. But her personal life is harder to predict or track because it's all over the place. She's flirting with going back to her husband. At the same time, she's determined to leave him behind. And her parents are so shaken by her choices that they're making big, unexpected decisions as well.

Marin Hinkle plays Midge's conflicted mother. Tony Shalhoub plays her distracted father. And the new season gives these two supporting actors more screen time, which they deserve. Like the star of the show, they nail every scene they're in. Here's Brosnahan as Midge questioning her father about her mother's sudden disappearance. It leads to a flashback memory in which the father, Abe, played by Shalhoub, reads a newspaper at the breakfast table while his wife, played by Hinkle, speaks.


BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Papa, think hard. When Mama said she was going to Paris, what exactly did she say?

TONY SHALHOUB: (As Abe) I don't know.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Concentrate. Recreate the moment.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) I was there. And she came in and...

MARIN HINKLE: (As Rose) I'm going to Paris. I don't feel like I have a life here anymore. Everything and everyone that I always counted on has let me down. I don't know what my place is here. You don't need me. Miriam doesn't need me. I serve no purpose. I'm unhappy. And I'm tired of being unhappy, so I booked myself a flight for tomorrow night. Zelda's making lamb for dinner.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) Lamb's good.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Papa, are you kidding me?

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) What?

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Mama moved to Paris.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) What? Oh, that's ridiculous.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Did you hear what you just said?

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) What?

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) You just told me that Mama told you she was moving to Paris.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) I never said that.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) I don't feel like I have a life here. Everyone and everything that I have ever counted on has let me down. And you said, OK.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) No, I said lamb was OK, and it was.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Oh, good grief. Honestly, Papa, you don't listen.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) Not true.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) You don't listen to anyone.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) Not true.

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) I don't feel like I have a life here.

SHALHOUB: (As Abe) Stop repeating that. All right. I'll admit that sometimes, I tune people out but mostly because they rarely have anything useful or interesting to say.

BIANCULLI: Because of this, it's only a few minutes into the new season of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" before we're off to a new country. Midge and her dad fly to Paris to retrieve Midge's mom. And while that visit leads to lots of hilarity, it also leads to some mother and daughter dialogue that hits very close to home.


BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) Mama, listen to me. You have to get over this. The world is full of disappointments. And sometimes, people let you down. You can't just run away.

HINKLE: (As Rose) What are you getting so upset about?

BROSNAHAN: (As Midge) You made a commitment to this man. He is your husband. You have to go back to him.

HINKLE: (As Rose) Well, look who's talking.

BIANCULLI: The actors playing the parents are great and are written as complete, independently funny characters - a carry-over approach from the "Gilmore Girls." But complete characters are the rule, not the exception here. Michael Zegen, as Midge's unfaithful husband, Joel, is written and played as confused and conflicted, not as a typical 1950s sexist cad. And his parents are interesting, too. Luke Kirby gets even more time in Season 2 as Lenny Bruce, one of the occasional real-life comics portrayed in this series. And Alex Borstein, as Midge's devoted manager Susie Myerson, is as good with a one-liner as her client and earned her Emmy. "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel," an hourlong comedy of the highest caliber, deserves lots of Emmys, and for Season 2, deserves a lot more viewers, also.

GROSS: David Bianculli is editor of the website TV Worth Watching and co-editor with Doug Howard of "Television Finales: From 'Howdy Doody' To 'Girls,'" a new collection of essays from Syracuse University Press. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR....


LUCAS HEDGES: (As Ben) Hi, I'm Ben. And I'm an addict.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) Hey, Ben.

GROSS: My guest will be Lucas Hedges, who stars in the new film "Ben Is Back," which was written and directed by his father. He's also in the new films "Boy Erased" and "Mid90s" and co-starred in "Lady Bird" and "Manchester By The Sea." We'll also feature part two of our interview with Samin Nosrat, whose cookbook "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" has been adapted into a Netflix series. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.