Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Spoiler Alert: Seeing The Last of Mrs. Maisel

Well, Midge Maisel has gone to her reward, which seems to involve lounging on a couch in a mansion, watching Jeopardy with still-buddy Susie. It’s not the ending I would have chosen for the final season of this memorable sitcom. But wrap-ups are hard. All the emotion we’ve put into watching the evolution of the often fractious Maisel/Weissman clan  over five years of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is supposed to pay off in the final episodes. But for me, the fifth season turned out to be a hodgepodge of scrambled stories, skipping back and forth through time in an effort to sum up everyone’s situation. I would have been content to see Midge—the affluent late  Fifties housewife who was dumped by her Nice Jewish Boy husband, only to discover her natural gift for stand-up comedy—go out either a winner or a loser. But the writers seemed to want to have it both ways. Midge scores the TV gig that makes everyone, both family and the viewing public, adore her.  Hooray! But then we have to endure the painful disintegration of her friend, Lenny Bruce, and several additional mordant moments  before that couch scene (featuring Susie in a mop of a grey wig and a caftan) with its final fadeout.

 The fifth season has been like that from start to finish. Several episodes begin, at first bafflingly, with flash-forwards to Midge’s now-adult children. I liked the possibilities of a full-grown Ethan picking vegetables and studying rabbinics on an Israeli kibbutz, though Midge suddenly landing in a helicopter to check out him and his cranky Sabra bride seems a pretty lame joke. As for daughter Esther, previously seen only as tiny child, it took me a while to figure out that SHE had grown up to be the brilliant young scientist discussing family with her shrink in this season’s opening episode. There is also a wacky suggestion that Midge is at one point about to marry novelist Philip Roth in a lavish Hawaiian ceremony. This brief plot strand—enlivened by parents Rose and Abe’s predictable hysteria—quickly disappears both from the series and from the characters’ psyches, as do some of the key relationships from previous seasons. Case in point: ex-husband Joel’s feisty Chinese-American spouse-to-be, along with their impending child. (Actress Stephanie Hsu who played Mei Lin,  has done very well for herself lately, nabbing an Oscar nomination for Everything Everywhere All at Once. So perhaps she had to be surgically removed from Joel’s and the viewer’s mind.)

 Why was I a fan of this series? Perhaps because it was such a funny and familiar take on ethnic tribalism, along with an acknowledgment of what young women faced in the Mad Men era Two of my favorite characters were Midge’s parents, played by Marin Hinkle and the invaluable Tony Shalhoub. Their obsessions with style (her) and intellectualism (him) always rang true, and their relationship with one another had the hilarious push-and-pull of many a marriage. Their firm grasp of their Jewish social and religious values were, to me at least, funny but never insulting. My very favorite season was the one in which the whole family group decamps to a legendary resort in the Catskills (read: Grossinger’s). Later, when the resort’s beloved social director opens a play on Broadway, Abe is put in the terrible position having to review this stinker for the Village Voice. Quickly he pays the price, as an entire congregation of his peers audibly shames him during High Holiday services for betraying one of their own. It’s uproariously funny, and it sure feels real.


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