I have finally made it through Season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and wasn’t that impressed. I mostly enjoyed the first season of the show – at least the novelty of a show set in this specific time period. The second season was pretty meh. This season doesn’t develop any semblance of a plot until you are six episodes in, and oddly the main character and her family cease to be the most compelling characters in the whole thing. You care far more about the struggles of Maisel’s manager, Susie, and the guy Maisel’s on tour with than you care about the campy and shallow Maisel. At this point, I doubt I’ll watch a fourth season of the show.
After Season 2, I complained to my friends that Amy Sherman-Palladino only has one story to tell. There is no daylight between Rory Gilmore and Mrs. Maisel. You have a bright-in-a-pragmatic-sort-of-way young woman who exists on the margins of the top 1% of society. Rory was book smart, but hardly a prodigy. Her creativity stopped at quick banter about pop culture; she wasn’t out composing symphonies or building robots.
And that’s Maisel, too. Quick banter about pop culture, but this time with an endless supply of dick jokes that Rory would never make (but her mother probably would off screen).
Their idea of struggles are not being rich and men who prefer a shinier model. But they never have to experience actually being poor, as you can count on their communities to provide some God-in-the-machine financial solution every time. A realistic plot will never interfere with the flow of cute costumes.
In both series, the setting is expected to carry the whole enterprise. Mrs. Maisel is visual confection. If you took the toddler’s board game Candyland and made it into a television show, Maisel would be it. Gilmore Girls was confection too. It was set in a New England town that was too quaint to exist. Even when the characters ventured out of town, it was to Rory’s grandparents’ Clue-like Connecticut mansion. And that’s not a bad strategy – visual interest probably did carry both shows in terms of viewership.
I feel like these shows say something terrible about what women want to watch. And they aren’t alone. Downton Abbey was a vapid soap opera about who was fucking and who was going to prison and who was trying to stay rich. The Crown is not much better.
All of these shows are like Cosmopolitan magazine with period detail. Ultimately the only thing the female lead cares about is sex and the attention of men. You can take a bright girl who should be conventionally successful, but the only thing that motivates her is who she wants to screw and is it still entertaining. And she flops over and over again professionally because of it.
Even in the movie-ish sequel to Gilmore Girls, Rory has failed at developing a career because she isn’t that creative or committed to journalism. She faces competition for the first time and moves back in with Mom. She’s broken by the fact that her college boyfriend wants to marry someone his parents approve of, which was the case for several seasons already. Someone who is more Junior League and less geeky late night comedy allusions.
Sherman – Palladino assumes that you will be as confused and outraged as Rory that Logan wants to grow up and she doesn’t. And that’s pretty much the role of Maisel’s traditional Jewish mother too. She’s the Logan. It is quite literally the same story with a different wardrobe.
I think it’s funny how many people label Maisel and Gilmore Girls as feminist art. If anything, they are the opposite. They take a very cheap view of women and what they are capable of. The women in both are crippled when they are finally put to real tests because they have built a life around attracting the attention of men.
On an unrelated-but-sort-of-related note, there is an episode that repeats anti-Semitic slurs about Phyllis Schlafly, which is beyond distasteful. I rolled my eyes at the historical ignorance so hard it hurt. But it does fit the overall anti-feminism of the show. The plucky comedienne builds a career off dick jokes while some other, more accomplished and more stable, woman is out there breaking the norms that actually matter and is doing so in a less treacly cultural landscape. But Maisel refuses to read a fictional and caricatured advertisement, so she’s the fake hero of Sherman – Palladino’s fake universe where dick jokes are social progress.