SERIES "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"
WHEN|WHERE Starts streaming Friday on Amazon Prime.
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Just to get straight to the third season's local angle (because the third season gets straight to it) much of the opening episode takes place in a hangar at Farmingdale's Republic Airport, where Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) opens a USO show headlined by crooner — think Nat King Cole — Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain). Midge is about to embark on a six-month tour with Shy, for whom she will open, while Joel (Michael Zegen) stays behind to take care of the kids and embark on his own new adventure. He opens a club in Chinatown, where he meets the funny and razor-sharp Mei (Broadway vet Stephanie Hsu, of "Be More Chill"). Yes, Abe Weissman (Tony Shalhoub) will leave Columbia, and (yes) Rose (Marin Hinkle) is furious about that. Meanwhile, Susie (Alex Borstein) gets an offer she can't refuse, but, well, probably should.
And of note: Sterling K. Brown ("This Is Us") joins in a four-episode role as Shy's hard-charging manager. This review is based on the first five episodes Amazon made available to critics.
MY SAY The third season is set in the 1960s, which is a decade that comes with its own set of expectations, mostly relating to music, politics and race. Above all race. When (or if) a white female comic dared go on tour with a black male singer in certain parts of this country during those years, the white performer would quickly learn a brutal lesson already well known to the black one. That's why the Shy Baldwin storyline is so intriguing, also potentially perilous.
Until now, race has been a "Maisel" blind spot because "Maisel" has been about sexism, or how a gifted woman of the '50s blasts through the glass ceiling, which back then was made of reinforced concrete. Shy and his prickly manager, Reggie (Brown), conceivably could change all that.
Whether "Maisel" will sidestep the elephant now invited into the room — racism — isn't clear from these early episodes. In a couple, Shy and Midge go to Las Vegas and Miami where audiences are both rapturous and colorblind. Yet it's hard to imagine show creator Amy Sherman-Palladino will ignore what can't possibly be ignored. The risk is that "Maisel" becomes a different show — say, a Borscht Belt-flavored version of "The Green Book" — but the promise is that it just might become a better one.
Midge, too. She needs to grow, or at least her stand-up routine does beyond the tame gags about her ex-husband or Jewish guilt. Those remain the weakest part of "Maisel." Will Jim Crow, paradoxically, be the catalyst for that improvement?
These early episodes do certainly play to "Maisel's" considerable and well-established strengths. They're a romp through the English language, abetted by actors who remain effortlessly up to the challenge. As always, the writing and those performances are still what resonate, and they're just about flawless: The patented Sherman-Palladino patter, and the stagey verbal pingpong matches that it inspires, and the quippy one-offs that drop so fast you almost can't savor them before an even better one arrives. There are lots and lots of arc shots — when the camera revolves around characters — to capture the screwball moment, but those never feel redundant or vertiginous. They feel necessary — a device to keep us off balance, and in the moment, and to savor the sheer professionalism of what we are observing. And "Maisel" does remain a seriously beautiful show to look at, or to luxuriate in, like a pleasing bath.
Yes, the basics absolutely are in place, and the pleasures, too. Those are the knowns. It's those unknowns that are more compelling. Will this season go heavy or stay light? Will Midge find out what Shy already knows? Will "Maisel" become a deeper show, conceivably a better one in the process? I guess we'll all find out at the same time.
BOTTOM LINE Terrific — of course — but will "Maisel" tackle racism this season?