This past break, my dad and I had a debate: Is “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” a comedy or a dramedy? I argued ferociously for dramedy, and indeed, Google took my side. After all, the show’s third season is lacking in comedy; the drama component provides the motivation to hang along for the ride. Will Midge and Joel get back together? What will happen with Joel’s love interest? Will Susie’s new clients succeed? Questions like those — rather than laughs — are what drive the third season.
Season one was brilliant, fresh, hilarious. Season two started getting bland. And season three really drops the ball. Don’t get me wrong: I still love the 1950s-60s costumes, and the videography is often quite compelling. But now these unessential details are the juice of the show, with a plot line that’s diminished to predictable.
A couple elements of the plot, however, remain somewhat exciting. Rose Weissman, Midge’s mother, gains complexity in season three. To ask for money, Rose goes back to her familial roots in Oklahoma. The scenic views, the Buffalo sighting and the chance to see a bit more of Rose are refreshing, though her feminist monologue against the all-male family board feels trite. Finally, towards the end of the season, Rose parallels Midge in her desire to no longer “depend on the whims of a man.” While her speech feels canned, like something you’d find on the shelf at a feminist grocery store, the sentiment is what matters.
On the feminist front, I also respect the questions that the series opens about Midge’s motherhood. Indeed, Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show’s mastermind, could have positioned the entire series so that Midge was a supermother, tucking her kids into bed at night and then flying off to play clubs after dark. Yet, in causing Midge to leave her family, Sherman-Palladino sparks discussion about whether Midge is a good mother and why we are having this conversation in the first place — would we even ask these questions about a show focusing on a male comedian?
Furthermore, I appreciated that Sherman-Palladino weaves in a more diverse cast for season three. By highlighting the African American community through Shy Baldwin and the Chinese American community through Joel’s club, Sherman-Palladino inches towards representing NYC’s diversity and expanding Midge’s world. In future seasons, though, Sherman-Palladino should remain cautious against flattening her characters into caricatures of their communities; Mei Lin, Joel’s Chinese love interest, is repeatedly called “mysterious.” More than mysterious, though, Mei Lin feels underdeveloped, squashed into the stereotype of a smart Chinese girl with no character depth.
The recent season also attempts to force Midge to confront her own privilege. Midge’s parents lose the financial security they took for granted in season one, and are forced to move in with Joel’s parents. Midge also encounters the strains of being a closeted LGBT performer through her friendship with singer Shy Baldwin. While Sherman-Palladino’s attempt to expose Midge to hardship is certainly worthwhile, the result feels clumsy, more like checking off themes from a to-do list than an earnest grappling.
The season aims to end with a twist, but the finale feels anticlimactic and deflated. All in all, I’d recommend avoiding season three. It’s not worth your time. That is, except if you are deeply invested in Midge and Joel’s relationship and love historical costumes. In that case, like you, I am still somehow anticipating season four.
Ayelet Kalfus | email@example.com