Monday, March 20, 2017

Pilot Talk 2017: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Part of Amazon's latest Pilot Season

Amazon's Pilot Season has been around for a few years now and it has proven itself to be a fun new way to conduct the series development process, allowing viewers to have a say in what pilots will be able to become a full series.  (Though it's unclear just how much of a role the user voting has on these matters.)  It can be a frustrating system too.  If you watch a pilot and like it, there's a possibility that it won't get picked up.  And even if it does get picked up, you're bound to wait at least a year to see the rest of the season.  In fact, I'm still waiting for the rest of Whit Stillman's Cosmopolitans, which was picked up in 2014 and still hasn't seen the light of day.  For that reason, I've largely stopped participating in the Pilot Season, preferring to wait for shows to actually get picked up and release a full season before I commit to checking them out.

Of course, I'm willing to make exceptions if a pilot calls for it and one of the biggest exceptions of all appeared this past weekend in the form of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the latest series from Amy Sherman-Palladino.  I'm a huge fan of Palladino's previous series, Gilmore Girls and Bunheads, so I've been eagerly anticipating Maisel since it was first announced.  The show is set in 1950s New York and follows Miriam "Midge" Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a plucky woman settled into married life with her husband who pursues his passion for stand-up comedy on the side.  It very quickly establishes itself as slightly different from the rest of Palladino's previous work, deviating from many of the traits that made them so beloved.  There is no small town charm, the character quirks are dialed down, and its time period sets it before many of the items in her usual arsenal of pop culture references.

And yet, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel still feels unmistakably like an Amy Sherman-Palladino show.  One of the qualities it retains from her previous shows is the rapid-fire dialogue, which feels right at home in this setting.  It's always a joy to hear Palladino's signature repartee ping pong between characters, and this pilot has no shortage of witty, sharp, and character-defining banter.  Additionally, the show continues her love of brassy brunettes.  Like Lorelai Gilmore and Michelle Simms before her, Midge feels like a dame straight out of a Howard Hawks screwball comedy.  Rachel Brosnahan has some big shoes to fill after Lauren Graham and Sutton Foster, and she rises to the occasion, imbuing her character with a verve that makes her pop immediately.  Brosnahan has been good enough in past roles, but here she feels like a revelation.  While she may not display the vulnerability of a Graham or Foster yet, she's able to completely nail the timing and delivery of the show's difficult dialogue, which is a promising start.

Some viewers might be a little impatient with this episode in the early stages, but I would advise them to wait it out.  Like Bunheads, the pilot involves a great deal of setup before it really gets to the meat of the show.  Once it does, however, it absolutely sings.  Last year's A Year in the Life revival of Gilmore Girls reminded the world of how wonderful Amy Sherman-Palladino's unique style can be, but The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel takes it a step further, showing us how joyous it is to see that style applied to a totally new setting and array of characters.  This one's a winner; let's see if Amazon agrees too.

Grade: B+

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