Break out the manischewitz and a plate of shrimp spring rolls because The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is back, babies! It’s been over a year (actually one year and six months, but who’s counting) since Rachel Brosnahan’s Midge Maisel last took the stage, and while Season 2 is sure to bring plenty of changes, there’s quite a bit you might not remember about Season 1. To make sure you’re properly prepared (Midge wouldn’t have it any other way), we put together this handy guide to everything you need to remember about Season 1 before the long-awaited second season premieres on Amazon Prime on December 5.
Meet Midge Maisel
Miriam Maisel – or “Midge” to her family and friends – is an upper-middle class Jewish housewife who lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband Joel and their two kids in 1958. The first season actually opens with Midge’s toast at her wedding, where she delivers something akin to a stand-up comedy set, joking about her life up until that point (the result of careful planning and confidence) and how there are shrimp in the spring rolls (much to her Jewish guests’ dismay). Flash-forward four years: Joel is an office worker who moonlights as an aspiring comedian at the Gaslight Cafe, where Midge dutifully takes notes on each and every performance – noting how many laughs he received and how well his jokes played (or didn’t). She bribes the staff with homemade pot roasts to get her husband a better time slot, despite his obvious lack of talent.
Things quickly come crashing down when two things happen: Joel reveals that he stole Bob Hope’s jokes for his own set (and still didn’t get many laughs!), but more importantly, he’s been having an affair with his secretary and is leaving Midge (with her own suitcase, the nerve). Furious and completely devastated, Midge does what most of us would do: She gets sloshed. And then she takes the train down to the Gaslight Cafe, where she gets up on stage to drunkenly vent about her situation – as it turns out, Midge might actually be good at this whole comedy thing. Who knew? (Well, we did based on that opening scene.)
Midge ends the set by partially stripping, drawing the attention of the cops and landing her a one-night stay in county jail. After Midge is freed, she bails out a then-little-known comedian named Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), and – despite Lenny’s warning to the contrary – decides to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
No Business Like Show Business
Over the course of her wild first night as a stand-up, Midge joins forces with Susie Meyerson (a phenomenal Alex Borstein), a Gaslight Cafe employee with a proclivity for newsboy caps who has taken it upon herself to be Midge’s manager. Unfortunately, sober, day-after Midge isn’t as gung-ho about this lifestyle change, but a disastrous Yom Kippur dinner – attended by Joel – and the revelation that she’ll have to move back in with her parents (who, to quote Susie, live in a “f—ing palace”) puts her back on track. Following her next set (where she begins performing under the stage name “Amanda Gleason”), Midge is arrested again, this time for saying the word “balls.” (There were some particularly zealous laws about public indecency back then.) Her new pal Lenny bails her out, but it’s not long before Midge digs herself another hole by shouting profanities during her bond hearing, earning her another trip back to jail on a contempt charge.
Under Susie’s tutelage, Midge begins brushing up on her comedy knowledge, listening to party records (albums featuring comedians performing more controversial material) and learning about different types of performers to figure out what her persona might be. Amid her education, Midge delivers another successful impromptu “set,” this time at a feminist rally. Soon after, she picks up a job at a local upscale department store and makes friends with some of her co-workers, discovering a whole new world of inspiration in the process. It’s not smooth sailing at first; Midge finally bombs a set for the first time due to lack of preparedness (not very Midge of her!) and realizes that not everything is worthy of mentioning in her act.
And then she bombs again: Midge hires a joke-writer (Wallace Shawn) who offers to read her joke notebook and write a set for her. Unfortunately, most of the jokes don’t even make sense coming out of her mouth. Even worse, the writer urged Midge to read the jokes off of notecards on stage. Worse than that? She didn’t bother to read the notecards before she went on stage. Truly cringe-worthy. Things remain a bit shaky as Midge meets a fellow comedian named Randall (the great and underrated Nate Corddry), who, as it turns out, is really into improv. When the pair hit it off at a party, Randall stages a lunch with his manager, who wants to market the duo together like Nichols and May. Thankfully, Susie steps in to talk some sense into Midge.
This brings us to the best episode of the season: Episode 7, “Put That on Your Plate!” Midge lands a gig opening for Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch), a wildly successful comedian whose whole schtick revolves around her being a heavy-set, sassy housewife from Queens. But when Sophie invites Midge to her home one afternoon, it’s immediately clear that Sophie is nothing like her hacky on-stage persona. She wears a fat suit, for one. She also lives in the lap of luxury and has enough money to fly in special teatime treats from England that she doesn’t even eat. The worst of it is when Sophie explains that if Midge wants to succeed in comedy, she’ll have to similarly develop a persona that is nothing like her true self – even though being herself is exactly what made Midge succeed in the first place.
So what does Midge do? She mines that experience for comedy gold, performing a bombastic set at the Gaslight in which she proceeds to out Sophie for the fraud she is and preach friggin’ gospel about women pretending to be something they aren’t. But she does all of this right in front of Sophie’s manager, who makes good on his promise to blackball Midge and Susie from every club in town – even the Gaslight.
All in the Family
Okay, so what about Joel? While Midge is on her personal journey to eventual stardom, Joel is shacking up with his secretary, Penny Pann (that name) and moping around like a total ding-dong. Let’s set the record straight up front: Joel was (and is) a bad husband. At best, he was completely oblivious to most of the things Midge did for him; at worst, he was entirely ungrateful for all of it. So it’s hard to pity Joel when he takes a job working for his father and plays the martyr card by saying he’ll use all the extra cash to set Midge and the kids up real nice while he basically lives in poverty.
And then he gets a hold of this party record featuring a new female comedian… Turns out someone recorded Midge’s very first set, and Joel hears how his wife absolutely slayed that crowd in a way he never could. Joel is experiencing a bittersweet sort of butt-hurt about all of this.
In the Season 1 finale, a hungover Midge reconnects with Joel at their son’s birthday party, where they share some mac n’ cheese and a flask, and before you know it they’re making out and then… yup, she’s back in bed with that schmuck. It’s not all bad, however: It’s during this portion of the episode that we – and Joel – begin to fully understand the extent to which Midge lived her entire life for this fool. She reveals that she used to undo every other hook on her bra before sex to make it easier for Joel. Before he leaves the next morning, he notes that Midge looks way different than she used to in the mornings. A subsequent sequence shows how a married Midge would wait until Joel fell asleep before performing her usual nighttime routine, and then wake up extra early each morning to do her hair and makeup so Joel would never have to see the real Midge. It’s funny, sure, but also tragic how Midge went out of her way to keep Joel protected in a cushy little masculine bubble.
Not anymore! While Joel idiotically quits his job and attempts to get back into stand-up (thinking it’s what Midge wants), our boy Lenny Bruce helps Midge return to the Gaslight stage – this time under her official, new name: Mrs. Maisel. But while Midge is telling jokes about sleeping with her ex-husband, said ex is drunkenly watching his wife knock ’em dead. Joel enviously watches the whole set from behind a pillar in the club. Before he leaves, he makes a point of accusing Susie of ruining his life by helping Midge with her career. Susie, forever an icon, tells Joel he’s selfish (he is), and as he leaves he gets in a fight with a heckler who yelled at Midge. Maybe this looks attractive to…someone…but really, it just underlines how pathetic Joel has become (and maybe always was).
But enough about Joel! Maybe? Hopefully. The first season ends with Midge fully embracing her life, flaws and the Maisel surname and all, and performing her best set yet in the process. Will her success continue in Season 2? Will she get back together with that schmuck Joel, or will she make out with Lenny Bruce and make all my dreams come true?
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