“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has received plenty of ovations since its premiere, including the best comedy Emmy for its first season. The Amazon series returns with its breezier charms intact, but, in this third go-round, feeling like it could use some new material.
The relationships and situations do continue to advance in this period comedy from writer-producer Amy Sherman-Palladino, with the rat-a-tat patter she has practically trademarked. It’s still pleasant enough, but what made the idea distinctive is growing a little stale – delivering a less pointed through-the-rearview-mirror commentary than it originally offered.
For starters, Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is enjoying some success on the stand-up circuit, having landed a touring gig opening for a popular African-American singer, Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain). She’s also coming to a clearer understanding with husband Joel (Michael Zegen), although their rift remains confusing and bittersweet to all concerned.
Midge’s manager Susie (Alex Borstein) has also made professional strides, prompting Midge to fret that she’s “distracted” and that she might no longer be her sole priority. The two get lessons in second banana-hood from Shy’s manager (“This is Us’” Sterling K. Brown, like Luke Kirby’s Lenny Bruce, a welcome if sporadic presence) and imperious stardom from Jane Lynch’s Sophie Lennon, a more one-note role.
There’s more going on than that, but honestly, not much, as Season 3 seems content to mostly coast on its good graces through the five chapters previewed – finding humor in Midge performing at a USO show, dealing with fidgety Las Vegas audiences, beatniks, and the squabbling of her in-laws.
Given the tumult that characterized the transition from the Eisenhower years to the 1960s, the relative lack of context as the series opens in 1959 comes across like a missed opportunity – not the centerpiece of what the series is about, obviously, but such a fertile backdrop for issues like race and feminism that those avenues feel conspicuously under-explored in the steadfast focus on the micro over the macro.
Despite being beaten out by another Amazon show, the highly deserving “Fleabag,” at this year’s Emmys, “Mrs. Maisel” remains a signature series for the streaming service, with reports the cast has parlayed that success into sizable raises.
It’s no surprise why Hollywood loves the show, with its period trappings and knowing cultural and showbiz references, like Susie being told that she needs a “weird ask,” contractually, to demonstrate that her client is really a star. When Midge’s father (Tony Shalhoub, wonderful as always) accuses his daughter of quitting her marriage and saying she’ll do the same with “this comedy thing,” she responds defiantly, “Never.”
There’s clearly no reason for “Mrs. Maisel” to hang up the mic. But as any comic can attest, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for fine-tuning and freshening up its act.
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” launches its third season Dec. 6 on Amazon.