A Reign of Bubblegum Terror (Nearly) Ends: “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” Season 4 Review

Let me start by saying: I love “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. I love that show. I have loved that show for a few years now, and consider it one of my all time favorites. What I don’t love is when after beating the sophomore slump to make one of the best seasons of television of recent years, that show decided that senioritis would be its cause of death before resurrecting, re-evaluating and going for the Super Senior Flunkie title.

After a long anticipated wait and various COVID pushbacks, Amazon Prime slowly revealed season four of its hit comedy in a 2-episode-a-week delayed release format. I typically don’t mind delayed releases, especially when the series unfolding generates mass interest and discussion in the cultural arena. Hello, I could only process “Succession” if my mutuals were slurping it up alongside me. The fault with this format in the case of “Maisel” is that not enough was happening to grab me between releases for a comedy hallmarked by its quick pacing and rapid-fire details. I’m getting ahead of myself.

For those unfamiliar, the above series focuses on a recently dumped and divorced (and un-dumped and un-divorced) housewife named Miriam “Midge” Maisel. In a search for agency and liberation in late ‘50s Manhattan, she bundles her quick quips and social skills to pursue a career in comedy. A revolving ensemble of side characters such as her parents, in-laws, ex, manager and various co-stars round out the series in a curt confection of laughs and tears. This show is exceedingly expensive to make, and for good reason: some of its most lauded elements are impressively encompassing shots by a masterful cinematography team and international sets following Midge to Paris, Miami, Vegas and back. All in all, this show was funny and fun and people loved it- until now.

The Face of a Villain

I’m not going to sit here and act like an affluent lily-white homemaker in 1960 would be the most responsible steward of reparations, but the blind deflection and indignant offense Midge takes to her own mistakes is astounding. I sat through the first two episodes hearing the words “revenge” and “a man fired me” too many times, mouth agape and catching flies, wondering if there was ever a wakeup call. As she continued to do for the rest of the season, Susie let Midge steamroll her with pride and utter refusal to take accountability for one of the (many) times she crossed a line.

This attitude persists into Episode Six, in which Midge gives a lackluster apology to Shy at his own beard wedding, and distances herself after witnessing the havoc she has dispelled upon his career. This doesn’t launch Midge into a trajectory of “doing better” or being more mindful of the targets of her jokes, but stokes the fire underneath her to change the industry to one where women get to say whatever they want. Even if it outs people, I guess.

Beyond this overextended arc of ignorance, Midge does literally nothing this season. For a protagonist who is always on the go, on the stage or on the hot seat, she is remarkably stagnant. She hides out in a seedy burlesque club which she transforms into a hub of female empowerment, but besides those few-and-far-between sets, Midge feels increasingly absent from her own story. It’s not until the heavily-fictionalized and long-lusted-after apparition of Lenny Bruce slaps her out of it (after…..we’ll get to that in a second) that she realizes she must get back on the saddle and restore her ambition to what it once was. Mind you, this moment is crammed into a 10-minute confrontation at the very end of the finale.

Speaking of Lenny (as fans of this show often do), his full frontal return and sudden relevance to the story was jarring to say the least. He had always remained a professional ally and trusted friend to Midge, flitting in and out of her life and career at convenient, chemically charged moments. I didn’t expect him to be taken seriously as a legitimate love interest, given the implications of his real-life life trajectory at this point in history and the strength in numbers of the “let men and women be friends” camp. Even Rachel Brosnahan, the series’ leading actress, proclaimed that she wished Lenny and Midge would never hook up and remain friends because of the integrity of their relationship. Yet, in (again) the very last episode of the season, he seduces Midge and performs a full set at Carnegie Hall.

There is no doubt that the aforementioned set was an influential and impactful moment in comedy history as well as Bruces’ life, but the combination of crossed lines into fictionalizing his romantic life for the sake of Midge’s show corset and the urgency required of the last 20 minutes of a season in which 80 loose ends remain floating around the credit screen made me question why these events had to occur…and why now? It’s Elliot from Euphoria performing the longest, most obnoxious song known to man when people are literally dying. The timing was off, the implications remain off, and overall it aggravated me to no end. I love Luke Kirby’s face as much as the next girl but please can we get some plot in this house!

While Midge is enjoying herself in the Blue Room, the rest of our cast and characters are falling apart. Moishe literally just had a heart attack, Rose (and Abe by association) is being bounty hunted by the Matchmaker’s Guild of the yay-many Boroughs, Susie is also being vaguely hunted by her mob caretakers and landlords, Astrid and Noah have been somewhat alienated and humiliated by Midge’s act, and Mei and Joel still have not fully come out to his parents- with their relationship or their baby. I understand that not everything has to be neatly wrapped in a bow for the sake of an audience’s satisfaction, but literally nothing was wrapped. The presents are sitting under the tree bareback right now.

I always appreciated this series in its ability to tell a tight story with a definitive beginning, middle and end. It stayed true to form and provided a guidebook for many feel-good comedies and character led series following it. Now, the rapid-fire banter seems forced and teeming with filler, the intro scenes offering unrelated vignettes of life surrounding Midge are wastes of space, and our heroine is aimless and absent. The throwing-out-the-window of the previous concepts and skills wasn’t lost on audiences, but most seem to have been wooed by Luke Kirby’s smirk, so maybe I’m alone in this.

It seems that this dissolution of the show as we know it is not new to Amy Sherman-Palladino’s box of tools, thus the numerous comparisons to “Gilmore Girls” this season has yielded. This is Midge’s going (or not going?) to Yale moment, apparently. Don’t ask me because I haven’t seen “Gilmore Girls”, but from what the streets are saying, I’m picking up what they’re putting down. I suppose ASP loves a fourth-quarter death bomb to decimate her female protagonists, then a pregnancy Hail Mary when all else fails. I don’t like it, but I also can’t speak very comprehensively to it, so I’m gonna leave it at that.

There lies most of my complaints regarding this season, but let’s choose love for a minute. Alex Borstein continues to give a fantastic performance as Susie, one of the few characters granted emotional growth and personal progress this season. Tony Shalhoub and Marian Hinkle are still the world’s best Upper East Siders, and I love seeing them in these roles. The wardrobe department is wardrobing, and the 60s-accurate hats
are…certainly hatting. The latter seems to signify a broader tonal shift we may anticipate in the final upcoming Season Five, as Midge breaches a changing world in her own stumbling, hired-help way.

Much recent hullabaloo has been made of how long TV shows should be, especially how long they should live before the arthritis and cyclical plot arcs start to kick in. I think we’re witnessing this fatigue now with “Maisel”, and I can only hope that its final run will revitalize some of the bits and pieces we all know and love about the show, while leading its characters and story to a place of maturity with custodial responsibility. I’m hesitant, holding my breath, and praying that we get more Alfie and Dinah next season.

Inspiration of the Author

This piece was inspired by my observations of various television trends that remain somewhat experimental in terms of the streaming universe as it stands today. Particularly inspired by Emily Nussbaum‘s reflections on streaming and delayed release schedules, I decided to apply the same lens to one of my favorite series, one which let me down with its most recent season. In this review I hope to successfully reflect upon what makes “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” a marvel, and what causes the inverse reality to present itself.

You can read more of Leah’s work here.

Leah Ollie
More By This Author

Leah Ollie is a student and storyteller from Chicago, currently in her first year studying Literary Culture, Theory and Criticism at Butler University in Indianapolis. She draws on cultural and generational inspirations in her work across multiple mediums such as poetry, creative nonfiction and journalistic criticism. Leah can be sought after and found at literateleah@gmail.com, most likely drinking a cup of matcha.

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