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27 May 2023
By Alison Stine Staff Writer

NextImg:Goodbye to "Mrs. Maisel": You were almost briefly, marvelous

It changed faster than many of its characters talked, a rapid-fire delivery that creator Amy Sherman Palladino was known for. At first: a beautiful rich bride, then a distraught, drunk wife and mother brought down by her (aspiring, awful comic) husband's sudden infidelity, then a fledging star stepping into the stoplight, unexpectedly.

It was "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" and from the beginning, it was one woman's journey. And from the beginning, we wanted the journey to be a little more meaningful and the title character to be a little more than she was capable of being. 

Its best moments were the most specific, the ones firmly rooted in its art form.

It dipped into alternative history, with appearances from real-life figures, most notably Luke Kirby as Lenny Bruce, whose loving and unflinching performance brought the famous, late comedian into the realm of all new-viewers. It introduced, like Sherman's and husband / creative partner Daniel Palladino's show "Gilmore Girls," an entire borough's worth of side characters, often more interesting than the stars. That includes feisty manager Susie (Alex Borstein). Let's be honest. It was Susie's show all along. Or, it should have been. 

"Mrs. Maisel" took its final bow May 26, after a five-season run which saw multiple Emmys, Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild awards, critical frustration as well critical acclaim. It was almost what we needed, and in its last episode, it proved what once we loved about it and what it could have been. 

Set in 1950s and '60s New York, "Mrs. Maisel" followed the adventures of one Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a wealthy housewife who stumbled onto the Gaslight Café stage after a night of heavy drinking. We've all been there. Well, we've all been brought down by something or someone, although hopefully our lowest points didn't end with an arrest, like it did for Midge. For Midge, it did repeatedly. One of the deserved criticisms of the show was that there were no consequences for our main (rich, white, heterosexual) heroine. Every arrest went away. Every money problem vanished.

But "Maisel" gave us a tour of comedy ups and downs, including the struggle to find gigs, to be taken seriously as a woman in comedy (everyone thought Midge was a singer, at first, because of the way she looked), juggling day jobs and the pressures of family, performing on tour and being fired. Its best moments were the most specific, the ones firmly rooted in its art form: comedy.

The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselRachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel), Luke Kirby (Lenny Bruce) in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Philippe Antonello/Prime Video)

That includes Lenny, who deserves a better ending. His complicated arc dipped and in out of the comedian's real life, such as actual Lenny's struggles with addition. But those struggles were only alluded to in the show — quick glimpses of needles in a bag in a bathroom, Lenny passed out in a gutter and rescued by Midge — which did not deal with them in enough of a real way. While the emotional heart of last season ended with a huge moment: Lenny and Midge finally sleeping together after years of tension, and true love and support from Lenny for Midge's work, a rare move compared to most of the men in her life, the storyline was dropped in Season 5, like last season's unfashionable hat.

Susie deserved better too. Hilarious and complicated, with a difficult family and the shadows of poverty also looming over her, many accused the show of queer baiting with her character. The show sort of had her come out in its final season, revealing a long-term relationship with a former roommate. But that relationship ended tragically and abruptly and Susie seems to be another in a long line of queer characters not allowed to have real or lasting love.

The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselAlex Borstein (Susie), Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel) in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Philippe Antonello/Prime Video)

A lot of people want more, have hidden depths inside them of beauty, talent and innovation. Art can come from anywhere. 

Stories don't and can't always get the chance to end perfectly, to wrap everything up. Midge's father Abe certainly has an emotional revelation, but the arc of his wife, Rose (Marin Hinkle), feels truncated, as does that of Joel (Michael Zegen). Supporting characters like Bailey De Young's Imogene have been forgotten, and it's hard to shake the feeling that Shirley (Caroline Aaron), Midge's mother-in-law, never got her time.

The Marvelous Mrs. MaiselRachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel) in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Philippe Antonello/Prime Video)As for Midge? Her time is coming. And we know this for sure, because the show kept reminding us this season with flash-forwards through the ages, when Midge becomes a kind of Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller figure. She makes it, OK? She makes it big. But we didn't love her when she was being rich, acting on the privilege she always had. We didn't love her when she was confident and blasé about the spotlight and had a certain future.

We loved her when she was open and raw, giving unflinchingly monologues on small stages she often ran onto, with piddling crowds she had to win over. Under stress and pressure, she rose. The finale gives us one moment of that, one brief and shining moment when she takes the mic. And the show takes us back, emotionally and physically, spinning around her to return us to her point of view — and to a dark, spotlit crowd that recalls the Gaslight, her humble beginnings (well, Susie's humble beginnings). Back when she was someone we could root for, someone we weren't actually sure would make it.

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In her final act of the show, Midge talks about her kids, specifically, her daughter, Esther. Because of Midge's unexpected life: "She's going to grow up tougher." Maybe it was Esther's show all along. Bookending the final season with Midge's daughter, and giving us that one last triumphant, unexpected set is a reminder that a lot of people want more, have hidden depths inside them of beauty, talent and innovation. Art can come from anywhere. All we need is four tight minutes. And a chance.

Goodbye, "Mrs. Maisel." Thank you and goodnight. 

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