All 9 episodes were screened for this review of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
Writer and producer Amy Sherman-Palladino has made her career on funny, complicated, smart women. What she began with Gilmore Girls is made even better with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
At heart, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has always been a story about one woman’s ambition to get what she wants. The means for Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) to become a comedy legend have changed, but the goal has remained the same. She’s taken on small comedy clubs in New York, ballrooms in Miami, and a stint with the USO. And now, in 1961 New York City, she’s doing what she’s done for all of us here in the 2020s: taking over television.
Season 5 finds Midge becoming a staff writer for “The Gordon Ford Show,” a late-night talk show. (Reid Scott, as Gordon Ford, is a tremendous foil to Midge; he gets some of the season’s best quips.) Like Peggy on Mad Men before her, Midge is the only female writer there, quite literally fighting to be heard, and still doing stand-up at the burlesque club from Weason 4 to test out her best jokes.
The final season jumps back and forth in time. Most of the action remains in 1961, but the time jumps illuminate the fate of characters we know and love. It’s a clever way to remind the audience that our time with Midge and friends is ending without barreling too quickly toward the conclusion.
What’s striking about Season 5 is its consistency with the previous seasons while bringing new tricks to the table. Most episodes have at least one flash-forward, sometimes decades into the Maisel family’s future, leaving crumbs about how it all ends. It’s a twisty new element to the show without feeling out of character.
Midge is ambitious as ever, still determined to be the biggest thing in comedy. She’s convinced that getting airtime on Gordon Ford is her next step. There are no left-field choices for Midge here (a common complaint about the title characters in Gilmore Girls during its later years). She’s still the same woman she was in season one—funny, observant, surprisingly frank, and lazy about being a parent.
It’s a moving final chapter in a show that is usually a comedy with a splash of drama. Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron (as Midge’s former in-laws) remain as boisterously funny as ever, yet receive some of the series’ most poignant moments. Joel (Michael Zegen) grapples with the reality of his choices over the years, and where to go next. Midge’s parents (Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle) do their best to adjust to the changing world, from modern education to matchmaking. We know it’s likely things will all turn out for the best, but how? In Maisel’s candy-colored, brightly-costumed world, there’s whimsy as much as there is reality.
The artistic hallmarks of Maisel are here, too: the now-famous single-shot scenes, Donna Zakowska’s costumes, and the on-the-nose selections of Broadway and jazz standards from the time. Watch out for a well-placed instrumental arrangement of “‘Til There Was You” from The Music Man, theatre lovers!
Ending a beloved series on a high note can be a tall order these days. Reinvention or redirection can sour a show (Game of Thrones, anyone?), but to do nothing new is anticlimactic. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s final season is a logical next step for its heroine, and playing with time is just enough of a new element to feel fresh and intriguing. It’s a final season that reminds you why the series won so many awards and has inspired everything from Saks Fifth Avenue windows to coffee table books. For a comedy to still feel this fresh and fun five seasons in? Now that’s marvelous.
Feature image courtesy of Philippe Antonello/Prime Video
The first three episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 5 drop on April 14 on Amazon Prime Video. From then it runs weekly until the finale on May 26.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 5 - 9/10