‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ Season 3 Changes the Routine as Midge Tastes Success

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has now reached that point where the heroine has more than one foot in the door of success. The beloved Midge Maisel, again brought to life by the dynamic Rachel Brosnahan, is no longer a housewife struggling to pursue a secret dream of standup comedy. Now she’s on tour and discovering that the ladder upwards comes with new hassles and hurdles. Amazon’s award-winning wonder still inspires big laughs, but takes on a new tone where it’s not about dreaming anymore, but how to live the dream itself.

It’s the 60’s and Midge is now openly working as a comic. The season begins with her performing before a rowdy crowd of soldiers during a USO tour while opening for singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain). Her talent manager is still a tough as nails Susie (Alex Borstein), who manages to get Midge on an even wider tour in support of Baldwin. Behind the scenes life is still chaotic as Midge deals with a pending divorce from Joel (Michael Zegen) and her unemployed father Abe (Tony Shalhoub), inspired to get back in touch with his radical ideals, turns the family home into a hubbub for leftist activists. Susie also faces new opportunities when she gets the chance to represent a major actress, while vowing to remain loyal to Midge. But as Midge begins to tour she realizes that newfound prestige brings its own pressures and even a bit of loneliness.

In the world of television underdogs can’t stay at the bottom forever, so now “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” enters fresh territory in its third season, giving Midge the beginning of her dues. While we have been rooting for her all this time, the start of success rarely means all is made right. Still under the careful eye of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show doesn’t descend into darker territory, it just gets emotionally more complicated. Despite her moving up in the world standup, Midge still struggles to get approval from her parents, who discovered last season what she’s been up to. But the season also veers into new angles following the supporting cast. With Abe out of work, his wife Rose (Marin Hinkle) needs to find a way to keep their lifestyle going. She flies to Texas to meet with her snobby, oil tycoon brother and other family, who keep the company’s board entirely run by men and refuse to allow Rose a deserved seat. There’s some great irony in this storyline considering earlier in the season Rose still lambasts Midge for her own chosen profession, slamming the idea of a female comic as something almost slutty. When Rose makes a tough decision concerning accepting more trust fund money from her jerk of a brother, she even blames Midge’s influence for inspiring her to become an independent woman. In new ways Palladino makes clear that Midge’s struggle is part of a wider, social fabric where women must fight for what is rightfully theirs onstage and even at the family table.

The men also face their own crossroads, sometimes with some big laughs. Attending a Lenny Bruce performance nearly lands Abe in jail, so in response he invites a bunch of radical socialists to the house and plans to found a radical publication. But the more he gets to know his comrades the more shocked he is at emerging 60’s trends like swinging. The young Communists themselves see Abe as old and, gasp, conservative. Even for an old school Jewish radical like Abe, the times are changing. And yet he and Rose are brave enough to face change by moving in with Joel’s parents, as tough is that can be. Meanwhile a freshly-divorced Joel goes on his own, less developed storyline, almost as if Palladino is trying to figure out what to do with him. He decides to buy a space in Chinatown to open his own club, but when he finds a Chinese family already running an underground gambling ring he also finds love with Mei (Stephanie Hsu), a new character who still needs some further development. 

As with the previous two seasons, the show’s true force of nature is Midge as played once again with charm and presence by Rachel Brosnahan. Her comedy routine recedes slightly this season, with few of the kind of grand deliveries she’s done before. This time we get more one liners than the fierce autobiographies we’re used to when Midge hits the stage. The emphasis is now more on how ascendance affects Midge as a person. Single again she finds the hotel rooms lonely and a fellow, more established comic gives her tips on one night stands. Even Susie has to run off during a touring stop in Las Vegas to attend to an important client, the insufferable actress Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch). This leads eventually to a closer look at the chemistry between Midge and longtime mentor, comedy legend Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby). The two meet up in Florida while Midge is on tour and Lenny temporarily lives in a hotel, making TV appearances and other gigs. As with many a relationship of this type, the possibility of more happening hangs in the air and Midge is confronted with the possibilities of a new freedom that comes with being both single and successful.

Visually this season maintains the show’s trademark eye for lush production design and silky cinematography. There are some enjoyably bold choices, like a late night scene almost shot for shot lifted from the movie “I Am Cuba.” There’s more music this time around as well with the character of Shy Baldwin delivering some recognizable numbers. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is both endearing dramedy and a work of aesthetic pleasure.

The humor in this third round of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has a more subdued feel, as if the tone mirrors what’s going on inside Midge. She’s no longer harboring a secret identity, it’s out in the open and the jokes are also now her actual job. Instead of being an escape or form of rebellion, now the stage becomes her actual commitment. Nothing is more difficult than staying true to one’s path no matter what. It’s a journey Midge is traveling and worthy of our smiles and attention.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” season three premieres Dec. 6 on Amazon.