SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched the first five episodes of the second season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
Everything is bigger in the second season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” — from its episode count (10 total, up two from its freshman year), to the talent Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) exhibits when she steps on standup stages, to the scope of the world, which stretches beyond 1950s Manhattan to visit the Catskills, as well as Paris. But for co-creators and executive producers Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, the biggest move they made in the second season was expanding insight into the characters that surround Midge.
“Our prime thing is always the story — where is the story going and that all of the characters are represented. The show is called ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ but we consider this more of a family show than a show that is solely about a standup comedian,” Palladino tells Variety.
“Maisel” Season 2 showed a completely new side to Midge’s mother Rose (Marin Hinkle), for example, when she left Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and moved to Paris after feeling betrayed by being kept in the dark about so many parts of her family’s life in the first season.
“One day she woke up and it was like everything she thought was wrong and it was that moment of, ‘What have I been basing everything on?’” Sherman-Palladino says.
After Rose realized she was not happy, the Palladinos wanted to bring her “mentally, and then physically…back to a point where she was unabashedly happy.” Before she was a wife and a mother, Rose spent time studying in Paris and naturally gravitated back there at this point in her life when she was questioning “if everything that I’ve placed importance on is bulls—, what on Earth does that make my life and what does that make me?” says Sherman-Palladino.
“It was such an extraordinary catapult of lightning that was so shocking and so new,” Hinkle says of where she found Rose at the start of the season. “It was a joy to be a fish out of water both as a performer and as a character. It kind of defined the otherworldliness of what she’s experiencing by me not knowing what I’d be in for.”
Production actually traveled to Paris to film parts of the first two episodes of the season. Those scenes were the first ones up for the second year, which Brosnahan says made it feel like they were “headed into a completely different kind of show.”
“We felt immediately like it was going to be bigger in every sense of the word. There’s a different energy in Paris than there is in New York and working with a partially Parisian crew — I think it does make those scenes stand out,” she says.
Similarly, Brosnahan says the middle-of-the-season trip to upstate New York for the characters offered slightly different working vibes as well, because they traveled and stayed together in lodging in Binghamton. “We went to ‘Maisel’ camp,” she says, “and I think the familial experience that we were having off-camera definitely influences the way it feels on-camera.”
Visiting upstate New York in the story was something Palladino says he and Sherman-Palladino wanted to do from the moment they were pitching the series to Amazon. “We felt that was an important part of the cultural history of Jews, just in general. The Catskills was the getaway,” Palladino says. “It’s just really interesting that there were 500 hotels and hundreds of thousands of people congregating in these hotels for two months. They were the cruise ships of their day.” But they found a way to set “story we were going to do anyway” against the new location so that it would still blend seamlessly into the season.
The on-screen trip to the Catskills was yet another opportunity to dig into the personalities of characters such as Rose, who Hinkle feels is truly in her element among her friends. “In the pilot there was a stage direction that said, ‘Rose enters as if in her own MGM musical.’ And I feel like when we’re in the Catskills she’s in her summer musical and she can dance to her heart’s content,” she shares. “That world of women congregating was probably a place of relief and release that in Manhattan these women didn’t have as easily, so those scenes were really delicious.”
And it was also a prime opportunity to introduce the character of Benjamin (Zachary Levi), a man whose own mother calls him weird simply because he does not accept the traditional gender roles of the time period.
“He’s a little Spock-ish. He values reason and logic over most other sentiment,” Levi says of the character. “I think he’s someone who’s always in business mode because he likes it and it gives him order and purpose in life — but Midge is kind of the first thing to throw that into another zone.”
When the two meet, Midge has “shelved” the idea of romance, Brosnahan says, so she isn’t looking to pursue anything with Benjamin. But as they spend time together, and he does her a favor by driving her back to the city so she can take a job opportunity, the things they have in common — and the way they push each other — become much clearer.
“She asks questions that other women of the time might not ask, so that’s a challenge. Her dragging him out of his comfort zone and taking him to places he’s not used to definitely opens his world view,” Levi points out. “He has never met a girl like her — like most people have never met a girl like her. And just that alone — his feelings for her as they grow — that’s challenging him more than anything. … Midge throws everybody off-kilter. That’s what she does. You kind of get swept up in this storm of Midge Maisel. She’s so charming and she’s so charismatic and intelligent and talented that the whirlwind wins.”
In some ways, Benjamin is like the other men in Midge’s life. Like her father, he cares about logic, reason, and routine, Levi notes. Like Joel (Michael Zegen), he has “the humor and the energy…and a little bit of ego — bravado — going on,” says Sherman-Palladino. But unlike them, Benjamin is not upset or threatened by her talent, Levi says. And that is what becomes key to their relationship, despite the fact that Sherman-Palladino admits that Joel “will probably be the love of her life for the rest of her life.”
Being the forward-thinking woman that she is, though, Midge wasn’t willing to compromise, let alone give up, her budding success in the standup world for a relationship. And Joel has admitted that he is not comfortable being talked about in her act, making her career the new mistress between them.
“The whole point is you go up and you talk about your life,” Brosnahan says, “and her comedy will always be drawn from her life and what she’s experiencing in that given moment, or what she experienced earlier that day, or what she experienced earlier that year. That’s her secret weapon. That’s what she’s good at, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Sherman-Palladino says she “notched up” Midge’s act in the second season to show how she was improving, despite always speaking off the top of her head in a stream-of-consciousness style. But even as she gets a bit more polished, she is still at the very beginning of her career.
“The journey of success we’re trying to keep as real as possible because standup was a different animal back then — there wasn’t TV so standups worked clubs and it was a longer road to make your bones back then and make your name,” Sherman-Palladino says. “It’s less about success and more about how solid she is as a performer — [and] what is that doing to her and what is it doing to her family.”
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” streams on Amazon.
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