The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Star Rachel Brosnahan, Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino on Midge's Sacrifices in Her Rise to Fame

That's her time. The final season of the Emmy-winning comedy looks at fame, success, and the cost of it all.

by | April 13, 2023 | Comments

TAGGED AS: , , , ,

Miriam “Midge” Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan’s perfectly poised heroine from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, came up in the era of “three before 30.”

The phrase, or at least how the Emmy-winning Prime Video series deploys it, is meant to refer to children: As in, Midge was raised to get married before, during, or in lieu of college and have three children before she turned 30. That’s what her parents, Abe (Tony Shalhoub) and Rose (Marin Hinkle) expected of her, and that’s what she did when she married Joel (Michael Zegen).

(Photo by Philippe Antonello/Prime Video)

She was two-thirds of the way through that kid goal when he abruptly left her on Yom Kippur, a surprising turn of events that eventually led to her taking the stage during an open mic night at Greenwich Village’s The Gaslight Cafe where she bared it all metaphorically and literally. The last part got her locked up for indecency, gave her a chance meeting with envelope-pushing comedian Lenny Bruce (portrayed by Luke Kirby) and found her a manager in Gaslight employee Susie Myerson (Alex Borstein).

So Midge did accomplish a “three before 30”; just not the three she thought. And, in the show’s ensuing seasons, she also opened for a rising mega-musician (Leroy McClain’s Shy Baldwin), gotten into a feud with an established comedienne (Jane Lynch’s Sophie Lennon), played nightclubs from the Catskills to seedy burlesque houses and somehow (why?) managed to have a good rapport with Joel.

In the final season, which premieres its first three episodes on April 14, the fast-talking and well-mannered funny lady comes even closer to grasping fame’s elusive brass ring. But that comes with its own complications.

Alex Borstein (Susie Myerson), Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel)

(Photo by Philippe Antonello/Prime Video)

“I love seeing the different ways in which Midge was confronted with some of these challenges and the ways in which she overcame them, or leapt over them, and all the ways that she persevered,” Brosnahan told Rotten Tomatoes. “I suppose one of my favorite parts of her storyline is that she asks herself this question a lot about whether or not it’s possible to have it all. And I think comes to the conclusion that it is possible to have it all, just not all at once. You see her, over the seasons, leaning into certain parts of the thing that she wants but struggling for that balance, always. And that part, in particular, resonated with me.”

Despite the series having five seasons, this is a life that is still very new to Midge, Brosnahan said — that her married life was the one “Midge wanted because she didn’t know that another life was possible.”

“One of the things I always loved about the pilot script, and about this character, is that very few women, in my opinion, come out of the womb ready to change the world and break down barriers,” she said, adding that “I think for most women who end up making great change, it’s much less linear and a bit of a slower process. It felt very real to me that someone in Midge’s position, whose worldview was [so small], would learn slowly and would discover a passion for breaking down barriers for herself that would later extend to her breaking down barriers for other women as well.”

Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel), Luke Kirby (Lenny Bruce)

(Photo by Philippe Antonello/Prime Video)

The show also discusses what a deadly addiction fame can be. Kirby is one of the few actors on the show who is playing an actual person who lived during that time. Another is Wanda Sykes, who previously guest-starred as Moms Mabley. More often it’s something like what happens this season when the show welcomes Hank Azaria as Danny Stevens; a character who seemingly has a direct lineage to comedian and TV legend Danny Thomas but who is officially a composite of several personalities.

The real Bruce’s personal struggles have been well documented way before Maisel. Kirby told Rotten Tomatoes that, although Midge and this version of Bruce did consummate their relationship last season, he always saw the character as more of her “fairy godmother.” In fact, the way the real Bruce confronted issues like censorship made him a sacrificial lamb for upcoming comics that would have included people like Midge.

“Because we weren’t playing this as an biopic about Lenny Bruce, we definitely had this privilege of not having to adhere to any kind of timeline,” Kirby said and noted that Bruce even thanked the “followers of Christ and his teachings” in his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.

Kirby added that, after researching the comedian, he felt that he was “somebody who was so yearning to live moment-to-moment that, in some ways, that was just as much of a burden to his adventure in show business because he really just was one of these people that was at his best in front of a live audience and couldn’t pursue the other alleys and avenues of showbiz.”

(Photo by Philippe Antonello/Prime Video)

And while Midge certainly never had an easy path to success — this season hits hard on the sexism and “girls can’t be funny” trope that was the thought at the time (and, in many ways, still is) — the show also discusses other barriers that prevent people from accomplishing their career goals. This season gives more screen time to Jay Will’s James and what it takes for Susie to get a Black male comic the jobs and respect he’s earned. When Susie tries to equate James’ career to Midge’s, her receptionist Dinah (Alfie Fuller) — a Black woman hoping to forge her own career path upward — doesn’t hesitate to tell her boss that she should try being Black for a day.

Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who serves as showrunner with her husband Daniel Palladino, said it’s “not our game” to put politically sensitized lines in scripts where they don’t naturally fit.

“Dinah saying that to Susie is actually, to me, more of an indication of who they are to each other and the relationship that they have and the fact that they’ve moved past the point where Dinah is the secretary picking up the phone,” Sherman-Palladino said. “Dinah has now become her partner; almost her equal. And that’s the way you show something like that because that’s how you can talk to somebody that you have that sort of relationship with.”

Joel Johnstone (Archie Cleary), Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel), Michael Zegen (Joel Maisel)

(Photo by Philippe Antonello/Prime)

This closeness is something that the Sherman-Palladinos also appreciate in their own lives, especially as they’ve seen so many of the actors they’ve worked with achieve their own levels of fame. The Maisel writers have a habit of bringing in actors they’ve worked with on their other series, such as Gilmore Girls alums Milo Ventimiglia and Kelly Bishop and Bunheads actress Bailey De Young. This season sees more familiar faces from the Sherman-Palladino-verse, including Sean Gunn, Danny Strong, and Sutton Foster.

Palladino said he specifically wrote the parts that Gunn and Strong play this season. He knew they were both busy with other projects, so he needed something that would more substantial than a three-line appearance.

“You save those special parts for those special guys and you bring you bring you bring your buddies back who you know can do it,” Palladino said and continued that “Some things come very quick and easy to us when we’re writing. And those never came quick and easy.”

Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel)

(Photo by Philippe Antonello/Prime)

And there is a special kind of actor who can handle this kind of material. Maisel, like other shows associated with the couples, is known for a particular kind of rapid-fire cadence and suave demeanor. But it takes a lot of work to make Midge and company sound so polished. Palladino said it “takes a village” of stand-up comics to offer input for Midge’s seemingly off-the-cuff monologues and stand-up routines.

“They have they have the rhythms kind of in their DNA that we don’t quite have the experience for,” he continued.

She added that “especially this year, where anytime she was on stage was so important because it’s one of the last times we’re going to see her on stage, I think it just carried even more angst and weight.”

Just as fame is an illusion, so is the idea that it’s easy to be this marvelous.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.