On Mrs. Maisel and Moxie and Marvelous Manhattan

Awards season officially kicked off a couple weekends ago with the 75th annual Golden Globes. I have a soft spot for award shows, even if acceptance speeches have an uncanny ability to make me cry, and this ceremony, with its black-washed, #MeToo, #TimesUp theme, was particularly moving. Fierce, brave, powerful women took the stage again and again to stand up for equality and diversity and empowerment. It was a heartening turn for a franchise that is normally written off as the quirky, party-hard cousin of the awards season family. And in this space, while sitting next to my best friend and holding her adorable baby daughter, I was particularly tickled to watch Amy Sherman-Palladino‘s new show, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and its effervescent star, Rachel Brosnahan, take the Best TV Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Actress in a TV Series – Musical or Comedy honors.

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I have been a huge ASP fan ever since Lorelai Gilmore first sashayed her over-caffeinated self into my life. “Gilmore Girls” is my most-watched TV show, the source of so much of my sense of humor and fashion and self. But as much as I adore Lorelai and Rory — and Sookie and Lane and Paris and Emily and Babette and Miss Patty and hold up this is not a Gilmore appreciation post, moving right along — I think I might love Midge more. ASP is lauded for her creation of independent, feminist heroines, women of immense smarts and wit and sass. But despite all their sisterhood and yaya vibes, the Gilmore gals’ stories always returned at some point to their need of a man. Yes they were top students and entrepreneurs and talented journalists and single mothers, but there was a niggling sense that all of that wasn’t enough unless they had a guy in their life to share it with (this was particularly exacerbated in the final, ASP-less season). And then there’s Midge.

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When the series begins, Miriam Maisel is happily married to Joel, making brisket and raising two children and organizing theme nights and sneaking out of bed at dawn lest he see her without her make-up, all in the service of what she thinks is a picture perfect life on the Upper West Side. She is smart and accomplished, a graduate of Bryn Mawr with a degree in Russian Literature and a razor sharp wit, but all of that has been molded to fit the life her husband has shaped for them. And then he leaves. And it falls apart. And Midge discovers that she never really needed him in the first place.

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You see, Miriam Maisel gives meaning to the word gumption. She’s got moxie coming out of her ears. She is scrappy and tenacious and bold and brilliant and filled with, in the language of our people, chutzpah. Without revealing any spoilers, as the series goes on, you watch her come into her own. She gets a job. She gets a manager. She forges an act. She stands on her own well-heeled feet, grabs the microphone, and steps firmly into the spotlight. She finds, literally and figuratively, her voice. Midge is, in many ways, the perfect heroine for the #TimesUp age. The world may tell her she needs a man, that stand-up comedy is for dudes (or a very select few broads who contort themselves into convenient cliches), that she can’t support herself and her children on her own. Even her own parents insist that she put on a pretty dress and fix a marriage she didn’t break. But she proves them all gloriously wrong, reclaiming her time and her own personhood, independent of any man.

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This does not mean she does not love Joel or want a partner. But she is not going to sacrifice her own identity just so she can keep a ring on her finger. And her success is particularly significant when you consider the era in which the show is set. In the 1950s, women were told to return to their kitchens, fire up their new vacuum cleaners, and start cleaning up after the endless stream of babies they were popping out for the newly-returned-from-WWII husbands. They were not supposed to perform killer sets at the Gaslight or get their own jobs or refuse to be dependent. They were supposed to take their husbands back.

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And in many ways, too, Midge is the perfect heroine for New York. This city is many things — over-priced, over-crowded, maybe even over-hyped — but it is also a place that rewards resilience and a refusal to succumb to others’ expectations. New York will kick the shit out of you, but it will respect you if you refuse to stay down for the count. Miriam gets knocked down (admittedly her rock bottom is a well-appointed classic-six on the Upper West Side with a seemingly bottomless bank account and free childcare courtesy of her also-wealthy parents, but that’s a conversation for a different time). And instead of lying there, waiting for Joel to grow up and give her a hand up out of the mud he shoved her in in the first place, she stands right up on her own.

I love her, from her painstakingly coiffed head to her clickety-clacking heels. I love her machine gun wit and her sashay and her refusal to descend to Joel’s, or anybody else’s, level. I love the way she lives life on her own terms, even when the foundation of the life she’s spent years building crumbles beneath her. I love the way she makes me love New York and all it can contain. I love her clothes and her lipstick and the way she is a fierce friend. And most of all, I love how she is utterly, unapologetically, marvelously Midge. Commence the countdown until season two.

All images courtesy of Amazon.

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