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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel: Season 5 // Series Review

How do you end a comedy?

By their very nature, the average TV show is designed to be everlasting. The engine which drives its story should be easily reset, generating an infinite number of new ideas or challenges for its characters without ever hitting a finite conclusion. They aren't designed to end, which is why their finales so rarely stick the landing. Luckily, Midge Maisel has always been pretty good at punchlines.

The question of ending The Marvellous Mrs Maisel has always been an interesting one. Showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino is best known to most for Gilmore Girls, a seven-season-plus-specials comedy which made no fewer than three attempts at a finale, none of which satisfied the show's savvy and hyper-critical fanbase. Mrs Maisel has had two less seasons (and no specials) to wring its characters for all their worth, which could be either an advantage or a disappointment when it comes to saying goodbye. With that in mind, it is my absolute pleasure to say that Sherman-Palladino has finally found a set sure to win over even the toughest of crowds. Fourth time's the charm.

When we left Miriam 'Midge' Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) at the end of Season 4, she had just been knocked out of a rough patch by none other than Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby) on the stage of Carnegie Hall. Realising that the time has finally come to get her act together and follow her dreams of stand-up comedy, Midge looks up to a sign lit in neon through a snowstorm for the 'Gordon Ford Show', known for platforming celebrities in need of a redemption story. It's a match made in heaven.

Or so it seemed at the time. Mrs Maisel's fifth season opens not with Midge on the couch of Gordon Ford (Reid Scott), but wrapped in her own bed linings, delirious after being hit with a chronic cold from her walk in the snow. It's a slower rise than many had anticipated, but over the eight episodes sent out to critics, Midge plays many a right and wrong card in her all-or-nothing game to the top, with the expected help from her agent Suzie (Alex Borstein) and ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen). Based on this, it would be fair to assume that Midge's finale would find her on-stage at Carnegie Hill, delivering the stand-up set that'll make her a legend. At least, that's what any other show would do.

But Mrs Maisel is not any show, and where this final season thrives is in subverting any and all roads to an easy ending. Littered through the season are flash-forwards to future years, giving us check-ins with each character as they thrive or spiral in the years to come. Some characters are still close, others are sworn enemies. At least one is in prison. The season plays with time not for easy catharsis, but to suggest where the Mrs Maisel story engine might have taken us were it allowed to keep running, for better and for worse. It's a fascinating construction, with each new revelation colouring the events of the present, as minor decisions our heroes make now start to have fateful consequences down the road.

Of course, while Sherman-Palladino may have stolen a trick or two from prestige dramas like Lost or The Leftovers, Mrs Maisel still has its roots in comedy, and this series is as whip-smart as the very best as what came before. The dialogue is as sharp and lyrical as ever, and this final season even contrives a storyline which gives this show - often described as a 'musical-without-songs' - the all-singing, all-dancing spectacular we've always wanted... just not in the way you'd expect. Brosnahan is exquisite here; soaring through scenes which ask her hold her own in environments as misogynistic as the show has ever dared to depict without ever losing the snark and spark which made her such a triumphant protagonist in the first place.

Some of the other characters fare less well. While Borstein gets plenty to do in a storyline which finally allows her to play on an aspect of her character that's largely gone unspoken till now, others are given disappointingly little to play with. Zegen gets one exemplary showing as Joel (in what is quite possibly the show's best episode), but disappears into the background for long stretches at a time, while it is clear that Midge's parents are only around at this point because of how easily Tony Shalhoub and Marin Hinkle can get a laugh from the most mundane of material. Fans of guest stars like Lenny Bruce, Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) or Joel's new squeeze Mei (Oscar-nominee Stephanie Hsu) should also temper their expectations, though these are more likely casualties of scheduling rather than scripting.

So then, the moment you've all been waiting for: does The Marvellous Mrs Maisel stick the landing? The truth is, I don't know. Eight of nine episodes were provided to critics, meaning that as of writing nobody knows exactly where or how show ultimately decides to have its last laugh. What we do know is that the set-up is near-perfect in its execution, packing some of the best laughs, gasps and eye-rolls of the series to date, with a timey-wimey structure certain to keep long-term fans on their toes from week-to-week. Many fans and critics of Amy Sherman-Palladino have prepared for the worst coming into this final season, but if these eight episodes are anything to go by, then we should expect a mic drop for the ages.


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