I have a very short attention span. I get bored very easily when watching anything or reading anything. Once favorite TV shows have run their course in my mind, I find them repetitive and currently with an annoying partisan social message that I do not need or want. Consequently I have dropped most from my nightly ritual. Then enters The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. This show is not for the timid and it raises the roof on any conventionality or political correctness. Thank God.
Set in the 1950’s, the show is about New York City’s affluent Jewish community. Miriam “Midge” Maisel is a typical 1950’s woman. Never leaves her home without makeup, hat, gloves, high heels, and nails. She marries Joel Maisel whose father is in the clothing business. They have two kids and live upstairs from her parents’ upper West side apartment. Her father, Abe Weissman, is a mathematics professor at Columbia University. This is the time when Columbia University was thoroughbred and students wore suits and dresses and were not radical pinheads. But I digress.
The show is staunchly Jewish carrying all the stereo typical Jewish traits of drama, money, and self-afflicting jokes. Which brings us back to Midge. Midge’s husband Joel wanted to pursue stand up comedy. In the evening the young couple led a double life. They went to the pseudo night club Gaslight and Joel did his routine which Midge inadvertently wrote. But that is as far as Joel went.
Without divulging the entire story and ruining the series, needless to say, it was Midge who became the stand up comic and performed as Mrs. Maisel. When her husband left her on Yom Kippur, she went to the Gaslight, got drunk, and blew the roof off with a comic routine which was taped illegally and sold on long playing records.
The show is not just fabulous for the clothing, the nostalgia, and the cutting-edge humor; it opens up a window into what being a professional woman was like in the 1950’s. The writers who are of course Jewish, brought out the nuances of women 60 years ago. In one episode, Midge’s mother who was also an art student at Columbia, convinced the women students into transferring to the university’s business school to find men. But as frivolous as that seemed, her message was more scathing. She was questioning women receiving graduate degrees if the only thing they wanted to do was to get married. She was also questioning their aspirations. One of them aspired to be a teacher “maybe at the university” . Really, replied the mother. “Have you ever seen any women professors?” Or something to that effect.
What the show does is bring forward the strength and tenacity of the 1950 woman. Women used their gender to manipulate their lives and shape themselves into whatever they wanted to be. They also rebelled. In today’s hard core militant female world, the 1950 woman would seem to be a weak frivolous thing. But she wasn’t. From the backrooms, kitchens, parlors, and secretarial typing pads, women ruled discreetly and with purpose. They used their gender wisely.
The show is a combination of profanity, comedy, stereo typing, and rawness that is refreshing and entertaining. There is nothing political about it. The Jewish community lived and lives in a world of its own. They fight among each other. They gossip endlessly. And they are always conscious of the fact that as Jews they are on the outside looking in on a society of goy (gentiles) who are uptight and set in their strange ways. They flourish in a city that accepts them for what they are and what they produce. They are a migrant mix of eastern European and new generations of Jewish Americans living the American dream. In one episode the wives were talking about their husbands wanting to die in Israel. “Why would anyone want to be buried in the desert?” To Joel’s father who was the biggest pain in the ass, Midge’s mother asked: “I hear you want to be buried in Israel. So when is that going to happen?” Nobody writes like that anymore.
The Wonderful Mrs. Maisel is void of gun violence or digitally enhanced anything. It is a story about an America that with all its post war trauma was much simpler. Less hung up on itself. Less hung up on individual needs. More together. More familiar. More lovable. Gentler and with more absorbed diversity than the irritating diverse activism of today. Nobody had to tell them to like each other. Most of them didn’t. But they were still united in a perception that hard work and hope can give you a better life in America. Midge Maisel is my heroine; elegance wrapped in tenacity and hutzpah!