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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel - Season 2 - Advance Preview

When Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – which swept the Emmys back in September, winning five awards – left our screens last year, it left with a promise: all through its debut season, it tracked Midge’s (Rachel Brosnahan) patchy, at times unwilling start in the New York stand-up scene in the 1950s. The season’s end, however, seemed to promise a complete commitment – on behalf of the show and Midge herself – to stand-up, the area in which both shine brightest. Midge, and by extension the show itself, would always truly come alive on the stage, and the prospect of more of that was exciting.

But things can’t be so easy, and of course the show’s second season – which premieres in its entirety tomorrow – starts with two episodes largely set and shot in Paris, as Midge and her father Abe (the increasingly delightful Tony Shalhoub) are forced to follow her mother Rose (the equally delightful Marin Hinkle) there. This development grinds whatever momentum the show had to a stop, which is frustrating. Of course, the series is of such high quality in almost every way that it’s never not worth watching, but seeing a show continually hesitate to become its best self is hard. Of course Midge’s journey through show business isn’t supposed to be easy, I’d just rather if the show didn’t always become so distracted by things other than that journey.

Aside from this frustration, the show remains as marvelous as ever in its second season. The first two episodes, while they can be looked at as time-wasters – are a pleasure to simply watch isolated from the show’s overarching narrative. Both directed with enthusiasm by show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, they make the most of the location (and Amazon’s generous budget). The show’s usual long takes are even longer, the typically adventurous camera is even more adventurous, finding something in almost every scene to just look at for a moment. The episodes vacillate between long, intimate interior scenes that are almost like stage plays in their sparseness, and exterior scenes that are pure cinema, luxuriating in every visual detail, creatively using foreground and background like few shows are capable of doing. All the while, these episodes ramp up the show’s inherent musicality to 11. Everything, from the dialogue to how the actors and the camera move, is done with such rhythm and precision that it’s intoxicating.

In the next three episodes (I’ve seen five of the ten in the new season), the show calms down a little (though thankfully not too much), as it returns home and Palladino steps away from the director’s chair for a couple of installments. Even with a return to the status quo however, the show still seems afraid to embrace its best self. This is particularly true of its handling of its supporting players. As good as the likes of Shalhoub and Hinkle are, Midge (and Susie, to a slightly lesser extent), make the show as special as it is, so it’s exasperating to see the show take some time away from them to focus on, say, Joel’s family struggles.

The end of the first season seemed to put Joel’s place in the show in limbo, and there he remains in season 2. It’s constantly unclear where he fits in with where the show is heading, and yet he and his parents are a large part of the new season. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, especially considering Kevin Pollak’s genuinely hilarious performance as Joel’s father Moishe. But no matter how enjoyable some of these scenes are, they never don’t feel like extra weight on the last show that needs it.

All this might sound like I’m negative on this season, which I most certainly am not. The cast and the visual presentation of the show alone are more than enough reason to watch. I’m just waiting for it to make the next leap: from very good to great. And besides, whenever the show slams the breaks on its plot progression (and it does this a lot), it typically finds something fun and inventive to do in the meantime. In the fourth episode of the new season Midge announces to Susie that her and her parents are going to the Catskills for the entire summer, and both me and Susie were appalled to hear this. But when the show gets to the Catskills it finds so much to do there that I stopped worrying and just digested the genuine excellence on my screen. The casting, the colours, the dialogue, the sheer blocking of each scene; each of these are a result of such care and excitement and indulgence that I can’t help but marvel at the craft.

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