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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a comedy about a 1950s housewife who becomes a stand-up comic after a breakup. The character is charming, effervescent, even inspirational as a portrait of a woman who simply refuses to let anything stand in the way of her success. There are also lots of iffy messages contained in jokes. Midge's mom worries excessively about looks and weight, criticizing her daughter's looks and saying that her granddaughter isn't pretty enough and won't have a happy life (these messages are subverted somewhat in the show's second season, which digs into institutional sexism and the limited paths for success for women in this time period). Midge herself measures her body parts daily to make sure she's staying thin. Her body anxiety also plays a part in a scene in which she exposes her breasts onstage in order to prove she was a good wife (good wife = good looking). Breasts are visible in a scene in which a burlesque dancer loses a pastie, a bare butt is visible when a woman bleaching her pubic hair runs around in agony, and in the show's second season, a man is fully nude (including genitals) when he poses for an art class. A couple has sex against a wall with moaning and thrusting, but no nudity. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," "assh--e," "hell," "p---y" (implying a man is weak), "whores," "balls." Many scenes take place at bars, and characters handle emotional blows by drinking heavily and then making choices they might not have made when sober. Many characters smoke cigarettes, and in several scenes, marijuana. In the show's second season, plotlines about women in comedy, a female character who goes back to school at an advanced age, and the demands made on women by marriages and romantic relationships drive home points about the expectations of women in this place and time, and how it affects their lives.
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What's the story?
Co-created by Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls, Bunheads) and Daniel Palladino (Family Guy), THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL introduces us to the inimitable Miriam "Midge" Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a Manhattan housewife in 1958 whose main concerns are keeping a nice house, hanging on to her figure, and advancing the stand-up comedy career of her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen). But when her life takes an unexpected turn, she discovers she has hidden talents. So, with the help of her bullheaded new manager, Susie (Alex Borstein), Midge takes on the coffeehouses and basement comedy clubs of Greenwich Village in the hopes it will lead her all the way to a career-making appearance on Johnny Carson's late-night show. In the show's second season, Midge and Susie attempt to recover from a reversal at the end of the first season, Rose and Abe weather some marital troubles, and Midge agonizes over whether her personal life and her comedy career can exist at the same time.
Is it any good?
Laced with wit and sass, set in a mid-century dream of upscale New York, and starring an actress who could easily pass for a third Gilmore girl, this winning comedy is a delight. At a time when women were supposed to be demure little housewives, confining their interests and passions to producing perfect dinners and obedient children, Midge is a firecracker -- albeit one who's doing her level best to fit into an Upper East Side mold. "Who gives a toast at her own wedding?" she asks the camera in her first words of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. She does -- because despite a mother (Marin Hinkle) who's always criticizing her, and a husband who doesn't appreciate her, Midge knows her own worth. She knows she's funny, and she knows that when she gets on a stage in front of a microphone, people laugh -- and that doesn't happen for everybody.
It helps -- Midge's career, and our entertainment -- that she's starting off in an era in which comedy was big, and getting bigger; when comedy albums sold, and a chance to sit on Carson's couch could launch a funny person into stardom. Lenny Bruce makes an appearance, as does the Friar's Club, pot-smoking beatniks, grimy Greenwich Village clubs, and any number of other vintage delights. Best of all is Alex Borstein as Midge's determined manager, a women who sees something amazing in Midge, a star quality she herself lacks. "I've accepted that I'll always be alone," she tells Midge in her authentically miniscule, moldy Village apartment from atop her Murphy bed, her eyes burning fiercely. "But I don't want to be insignificant." A whole world of misfits will see themselves in Susie and Midge, two women who are underrated by everyone -- but themselves.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the time period in which The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel was set. What jobs were typically open to women at that time? Was "performer" or "comic" one of them? What female comics can you name from the 1950s? Would it have been harder or more unusual for a woman to succeed in comedy? Is it harder or more unusual now?
Both male and female characters mistreat women in this show. What examples of sexism can you name? How does the show want us to feel about its female characters and how they are treated?
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