Friday, April 22, 2022

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel: No One Loves a Critic!

I’m overjoyed to see The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel back on the tube. Though the first segment of the show’s final season was frequently gibberish, with too many plot strands being introduced far too quickly, the weeks since then have returned to what’s best about Mrs. Maisel: that lovably wacky family unit full of well-heeled misfits and hangers-on who cling together, no matter what. The episode I watched this past week is the best yet: full of family dinners, outrageous hats, and a bar mitzvah to die for. Actually, dying is somewhat of a theme of this episode, in which the pugnacious Susie’s roommate suddenly passes on, leaving her to deliver an obscene but heartfelt eulogy in front of the few folks who’ve bothered to show up to pay tribute. And also in front of those others—from the well-attended funeral next door –who get roped into listening to her memories of a man they didn’t know, and probably wouldn’t have liked.

 But my heart really went out in this episode to the redoubtable Abe Weissman (played with panache, as always, by Tony Shalhoub), the paterfamilias of this group. Once a respected, if quirky, mathematician with a secure position at Columbia University, he has made a dramatic gesture by casting aside his dignified titles and taking a low-rent job as the drama critic at The Village Voice. Now, enamored of his new role as a spokesperson for the arts, he has bought himself a twirl-worthy black cape so as to make a suitable splash when attending opening nights.

 But disaster awaits. His first theatre gig involves critiquing a new Broadway musical, an updated version of a show that was the annual highlight of the family’s summers at an oh-so-Jewish resort in the Catskills. The entire group snaps up the free tickets that have been lavished upon them, certain that one of their own has now made good on the Great White Way. Uh oh! We don’t see the show itself, but it’s clear from the forced cheerfulness of everyone in the lobby afterwards that this will not be a palpable hit. Abe tries to weasel out of writing a review that will break the playwright’s heart, but professional integrity requires that he call a spade a spade.

 Cut to the following day’s bar mitzvah. Happily, no fun is made of the ancient ceremony itself. But the bar mitzvah boy (with the rabbi’s encouragement) departs from his planned speech to talk pointedly about the essential importance of loyalty. And other congregants loudly chime in, making it clear that Abe’s public diss of a congregant’s labor of love is a profound insult—a disgrace!—to his entire community. Pity the poor critic! He’s paid to be honest, but he’s also expected to be kind. Yet, generally, never the twain shall meet.

 I responded so strongly to this episode because, like every published writer who’s been a commentator or a critic, I often find myself in the awkward position of being asked for feedback on the work of a friend. We writers know what it’s like: a pal or (even worse) a family member hands you the magnum opus on which they’re been laboring for years, saying, “Give me your honest opinion. If you don’t, I won’t respect you ever again.” Translation: a bit of constructive nit-picking is OK, but you’d better make it clear that this is a work of genius.



  1. Hiya, Just wanted to share unhappy personal experiences you touched upon in your piece. During my Dylan days I did some writing for several Dylan publications and was often asked to review new books about Bob. I didn’t like a particular one and said so-gently-in my piece. The writer came down on me, relentlessly, with both feet and several baseball bats. I also disagree with The New Yorker’s David Remnick during a panel discussion. Ever get a new one ripped open by a Pulitzer Prize winning editor? I’m still sore 15 years later (But was right!) Peace. And always duck!

  2. Great stories, Bob. I should definitely learn to duck!

  3. YES, Please learn to duck, we need you writing for a long time-The reason I’m writing you now-There was something on my Google blotter page-It was a listing of Duvall’s best movies, from 25 down to 1; it put Santinni at 11 and Mercies at 10, implying WE were wrong! INCORRECT, we know better than Google. Peace. Bobby