One of the most memorable TV moments this year came when Amy Sherman-Palladino strode to the podium at the Emmy ceremonies with her funky hat and even funkier attitude to receive a much deserved award for writing. Then she did it again. And again.
In all, her series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” scored five Emmys, including one for outstanding comedy, a triumph for a creator who should have taken a similar bow for “Gilmore Girls” nearly two decades earlier.
Why “Maisel” worked during its first season, and continues to charm in 10 new episodes that will drop on Wednesday, has much to do with Sherman-Palladino’s love affair with words.
No TV writer has been so over the moon about the rhythm and rhyme of the English language — and that includes Rod Serling and Aaron Sorkin.
Set in the late 1950s, Season 2 shows Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) continuing to develop as a stand-up comic, expanding her terrain to Paris, where she needs a translator to sell the punch lines, and the Catskills, where she plays hooky from a family vacation to sharpen her craft. Her act is more polished and edgier than when we last saw her in action, especially during a bit when she rips into a gang of piggish male comics sinking deep into their bar stools. (Comedian Jen Kirkman helped craft the routines.)
But it’s offstage that her way with words really pops. The interplay with desperate manager Susie (Alex Borstein) over French fries at the deli is as salty as the banter between Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in “My Girl Friday.”
Maisel is equally deft when flirting with a potential new boyfriend, played by Zachary Levi, so beefed up since his days on NBC’s “Chuck” that he walks as if he’s got pork chops strapped to each thigh. You can see the moment his character falls in love with her when she starts imitating the radio announcer during a road trip.
Romance isn’t limited to the dialogue. Sherman-Palladino and her partner (in life and work) Daniel Palladino tap Sinatra and Streisand tunes any chance they get, pairing those lush voices with the show’s pastel color scheme.
The fact that this confection was whipped up and driven by women might lead newcomers to think it’s the perfect show to unwind with after a #MeToo rally; it’s not. Sherman-Palladino never forgets that it’s a period piece — and neither do the characters.
Maisel may want to be a star, but she’s just as eager to man the makeup counter at a ritzy department store, and she’s unusually grumpy when she’s booted from a bikini competition that she’s proudly won several years in a row.
Her mother (Marin Hinkle) temporarily embraces the feminist movement, jetting off to France, but by Episode 3 she’s resigned herself to the role of a housewife whose most rebellious act is taking an art class, a treat arranged by her old-fashioned husband.
Progress may be slow on screen, but it’s the only element of “Maisel” that isn’t in a hurry. Prepare to press the rewind button when Maisel works the crowd during a dizzying dance-hall scene, or when Susie jabbers her way out of a threatening confrontation with two bill collectors who are so enamored that her abduction turns into a dinner date. You’ll strain your fingers googling all the references to Jackie Vernon, Sylvia Plath and the Gaslight Cafe.
The English language has rarely gotten such a thorough and satisfying workout.
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