Reflecting on the disappointing third season of Amy Sherman Palladino’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” audiences may find themselves wondering, what made this season of the otherwise excellent series different? The show had previously won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for best comedy series. Its lead actress, Rachel Brosnahan, who remains a tour de force, won two Golden Globes and an Emmy for her role as Midge Maisel. Yet in the third season, it feels as if the show is pulling its punches, coasting off of its previous acclaim and no longer feeling any pressure to prove itself.
The show follows the life of Midge Maisel, a wealthy Jewish woman from the upper east side. After her husband leaves her, she decides to make a name for herself as a stand-up comedian. The show’s first two seasons are vivid examples of what television can be at its best. The characters are dynamic, flawed and relatable, the plot is coherent yet imaginative, and its top notch performances and a skillful use of pacing make the viewer laugh and cry. The show is both surprising and satisfying as it allows the audience to watch characters they love fail, learn and succeed before their very eyes. But one of the reasons for the second season’s success was from the culmination of a season’s worth of rising tensions and stoking excitement for the next season to follow.
However, the third season of the Amazon hit does not deliver on the high hopes of its previous installments. In the third season, plot lines begin and end with very little rationale or nuance. The season continues to follow Midge as she and her manger Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein) travel around the country on tour. Throughout the season, the show seems to shy away from putting its characters into any sort of conflict. When Midge flops at her first gig on tour, she only needs a quick pep talk from Suzy and then gets back on stage where all of her issues are miraculously resolved. In a few episodes early in the season, it is established that Myerson has a gambling problem, which may put herself and Midge in financial trouble. Though the show devotes a fair amount of time to establishing this as an issue for the character and plot, it is resolved in minutes without Midge so much as discovering Susie’s wrongdoing.
While there is nothing wrong with resolving plotlines within a season, the issue here is that the show has given up on taking risks. It appears that the creative team seems bent on preserving relationships as they are in hopes of expanding the series for a long as possible. But the result seems to be that creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and the other writers are refusing to put the characters in any sort of conflict that may inspire growth or a meaningful arc. When enough tension was built from the previous season to create real drama, like Benjamin (Zachary Levi) confronting Midge about leaving him or Midge and her ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen) reuniting on tour, these moments are short lived and soon forgotten, having no lasting impact on the characters or the plot.
The third season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” feels like an extremely high-quality farce of itself. It is visually stunning with beautiful costumes and sets. The show devotes a lot of effort to grand and majestic sequences which are visually pleasing but substantially vapid. A particularly egregious example actually occurs right on the heels of one of the best moments in the entire season when Midge spends a night out with fellow comedian Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) which serves as the climax of their relationship. Throughout the series, Bruce and Midge have an undeniable chemistry which is finally recognized by the show in this scene when the two ask the question: “Should we?” The show’s answer is no, which feels appropriate, however heart wrenching. It is a moment of real character connection and emotion that sadly does not last very long. The scene, as beautiful as it is, is quickly followed by a prolonged sequence of synchronized swimmers, signaling to the viewer a shift back into the pageantry that defines much of this season. This sequence alone would not be so bad if it existed in a vacuum. However, this season time and time again choses visual pomp over story, making what might otherwise be a pleasant sequence feel tedious.
Throughout this season, Palladino seems to be standing exclusively on the shoulders of the previous two seasons by offering nothing new or interesting for the third to stand on its own merits. This season squanders all of the suspense built up from the second season, possibly hoping to draw out certain conflicts and resolutions into a fourth season. This tactic makes the entire season feel like it is stalling and milking the audience for viewership without delivering creatively.
Sophia Larson can be reached at [email protected]