My wife Grace sometimes watches Amy Sherman-Palladino's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with her headphones in. I do not watch Amy Sherman-Palladino's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, but I occasionally catch a subtitled line or two of dialogue over my wife's shoulder, and have cobbled together a rudimentary understanding of the show that, if the situation ever called for it, I could explain to someone who had seen even fewer scenes than I had.
It seems to me slightly risky to have given Amy Sherman-Palladino a TV show with a protagonist benefits from historical hindsight. Imagine Lorelai Gilmore with the gift of prophecy. Would this have benefited humanity, or destroyed us? But I am not in charge of giving TV shows to Amy Sherman-Palladino, and I should confine my remarks only to what I have seen on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
- Everyone wants to know what Mrs. Maisel is doing. Is it marvelous? Where is she right now? "Where's Mrs. Maisel," characters say whenever she is not onscreen, "Is she all right?"
- Every interaction and affect is blunted by cuteness*: If someone is angry, they are adorably angry, if Tony Shalhoub is flustered, he is winsomely flustered. If Mrs. Maisel quarrels with her ex-husband, they have an enchanting quarrel about how infuriatingly endearing she has been that day: "You are so wonderful that I could never be married to you again!!!"
- Sometimes Lenny Bruce and other famous people from the 1960s come by in a limousine to tell Mrs. Maisel that she is so wonderful. Steve McQueen, Sammy Davis Jr., Don Draper, et cetera. "Wow, she's terrific!" they shout from their limousines, and then they drive on. "We, the Beatles, just love her!"
- At some point in the most recent season, the scripted show also begins to include a documentary in the future about just how marvelous Mrs. Maisel is. She is asked questions like:
- You are an icon! You are the greatest comedian who has ever lived! I love you so, so much, with a wondrous love!
- You have so many beautiful clothes! Can you tell me about some of them? You could have been a model if you wanted to model! I'm so glad you decided to be a comedian so that you could become the greatest comedian who ever lived in the greatest clothing God has ever caused to be stitched, but you could have been the funniest model in the world, if you had wanted to!
- Is it true that, like the Christ, you were once betrayed by an unworthy friend? Does this sometimes break your mighty heart?
- How much more marvelous can one woman become? Surely this enormous woman will devour us all –
*From Sianne Ngai: "What ultimately sets the cute apart from other, similarly ‘minor’ aesthetics or sensibilities – the sentimental, the pastoral, the naive, the ridiculous – with which it so often collaborates?...Directed as much if not more to an imaginary public of other subjects standing apart from the object itself, this affective response, ‘Cuuuuuuute!!’ – or as Roland Barthes prefers, ‘Adorable!’ – is also an evaluation: one that seems primarily positive but that is ultimately ambivalent. Calling something or someone ‘cute’ can be as much of a dismissal as a compliment.
Hence while all aesthetic categories conjoin our recognition of a relatively codified appearance to an equally conventional speech act, cuteness does so in a particularly revealing way: our judgment ends up mimicking the appearance it evaluates, collapsing the distance between object and subject in an instantiation of the ‘immediacy’ we seek in the aesthetic overall."
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]