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Archive: Music & Entertainment / Spokane and North Idaho

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Now Streaming: Is “Mrs. Maisel” Marvelous?

There was no question that I would watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” pilot on Amazon Prime. An hour-long dramedy created by Amy Sherman-Palladino featuring a brassy female protagonist? Sold. Oh, and it’s set in New York in the late 1950s, scratching that “Mad Men” itch I’ve had for two years? Double sold.

But after the ups and downs of Netflix’s revival of “Gilmore Girls” last fall (that musical, the fat jokes, Rory in general, etc.), I did have some reservations. ASP (and her creative partner and husband Daniel Palladino) sometimes mistake quirk for personality, and are rather tone deaf to sensitive identity issues.

The period setting, though, helps alleviate some of Palladinos’ weaknesses. They may try to get by some political incorrectness with the lame excuse that “It’s the 1950s!” And their Achilles’ heel – critical commentary on the developments of modern technology verging on Luddism – is no more advanced than a scene with an electric pencil sharpener and a befuddled secretary.

Plus, those costumes, those hairstyles, those settings … it’s a visual delight for lovers of mid-century modern décor and Spoolie hair rollers.

“Mrs. Maisel” is Midge, an Upper West Side, twenty-something housewife and mother who supports her nine-to-five husband Joel in his late night attempts at stand-up comedy in Greenwich Village. Local viewers are in for a treat(?) when, prior to Joel’s set at the Gaslight Café, a dour Beat poet recites an ode to her hometown (“rumble of lumber trucks … robbers of the indigenous … Spokane … man.”).

Spokane poem
"The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" Pilot (Amazon)

After a (somewhat rushed) series of events leads Midge to a crisis, she ends up on stage herself and discovers that her voice is just what the comedy scene has been missing. Think Joan Rivers, pre-plastic surgery and “Fashion Police.”

Rachel Brosnahan plays the title role with strength and impeccable timing. She has the wit and charisma that Alexis Bledel always seemed to lack as Rory Gilmore.

Rory Gilmore and Midge Maisel
LEFT: "Gilmore Girls" Season 5 Episode 22 (Netflix); RIGHT: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" Pilot (Amazon)

The comparison between the two characters isn’t hard to make, right down to the dual image of the pretty waifs with mussed, brown hair being bailed out of jail in powder blue. But while Rory succumbed to her setbacks, Midge confronts them – with encouragement from ASP mainstay Alex Borstein.

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is part of Amazon Prime’s original pilot season, which means viewers must vote for their favorite shows before they’re picked up to series. Given ASP’s legacy and enthusiastic fanbase, I look forward to seeing more of Midge’s misadventures in Manhattan in the future. 

TOP PHOTO: "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" (Amazon)

Binge Watch preview: “Transparent”

Post script to last week's Thanksgiving edition: Amazon Prime released the first episode of the second season of Emmy-winning "Transparent" last night. The remaining seven episodes will be available on Friday, Dec. 11.

The first season followed the Pfefferman family as patriarch Mort (Jeffrey Tambor) comes out as a transgender woman, now Maura, to her grown children and ex-wife. While the half-hour series is darkly comedic, it's primarily thoughtful and sad. It’s also infuriating as the Pfefferman children make the same selfish mistakes in their relationships at every turn.

Nothing appears to have changed in season two, as barely divorced Sarah (Amy Landecker) walks down the aisle with a rekindled college flame, middle child Josh (Jay Duplass) shares a secret against his partner's wishes and youngest sister Ali (Gaby Hoffmann) generally stirs up trouble with her compulsive lies.

We also learn that Maura has not come out to her mother, and is estranged from her sister Bryna (Jenny O'Hara). I'm much more interested in exploring Maura's feelings and relationships—especially regarding her ex-wife and current housemate Shelly (Judith Light)—than her kids', but I think we're in for plenty of lying and cheating between the younger Pfeffermans this season.

If you were able to stomach the family dysfunction of "Casual," you might be ready for an even bigger dose in "Transparent." This uncomfortable second season teaser is merely a taste of the awkwardness that awaits you.

Binge Watch: Thanksgiving edition

One of greatest things about cord-cutting (other than the savings) is that you aren’t tied to your TV and cable box to watch popular shows, which is especially handy during holiday travels. With a Wi-Fi connection and mobile device, you can binge watch on planes, trains and automobiles (non-drivers only).

When you need a break from holiday cheer, check out a few of my favorite newish half-hour shows that don’t quite fit into the sitcom category. I think of them as off-kilter rom-drams featuring eccentric families that will make you really appreciate your own.

"Catastrophe"

"Catastrophe"

While originally broadcast on Channel 4 in the U.K. earlier this year, “Catastrophe” was available to U.S. viewers through Amazon Prime Instant Video this summer. American comedian and writer Rob Delaney co-created and stars in the series with Irish actress Sharon Horgan about two relative strangers who become a couple after a vacation fling leads to a high-risk pregnancy.

With only six episodes, the short series mirrors the brief courtship, engagement and marriage of the two middle-aged protagonists as they grapple with cohabitation, work and anxiety about impending parenthood. It sounds intense, but the good-natured banter between Delaney and Horgan keeps the tone friendly, for the most part.

The second season is currently airing in the UK; its Amazon Prime release date has yet to be announced.

"Master of None"

"Master of None"

If you read comedian Aziz Ansari’s recent non-fiction book “Modern Romance” or watched his stand-up special “Live at Madison Square Garden,” some of the plotlines in his Netflix original series “Master of None” will seem a little familiar.

But that doesn’t make the series any less enjoyable, especially the episodes that embrace bringing up topics that aren’t usually addressed on film—how racism and sexism in media feed prejudice in society, the immigrant experience in America and the realization that old people are just people who got old.

If you’re visiting family over the holidays, I recommend viewing “Parents” and “Old People” in advance; maybe you'll be inspired to instigate some of the same conversations Dev has with his parents and his girlfriend’s grandmother with your own relatives.

A bonus fun fact is that Dev’s on-screen parents are Ansari’s actual parents who have never acted before. Keep that in mind when Shoukath Ansari wins an Emmy for Best Guest Actor in a Comedy Series next year.

"Casual"

"Casual"

For something a little darker, brace yourself for Hulu original “Casual.” Following a divorce, psychiatrist Valerie (Michaela Watkins) and her teenage daughter Laura (Tara Lynne Barr) move in with Valerie’s brother Alex (Tommy Dewey), whose background as a successful dating website founder qualifies him to give his sister jaded and brutally honest dating (or hooking-up) advice, but leaves his own love life lacking.

Watkins’ previous ventures on “Saturday Night Live” and “Trophy Wife” were sadly short-lived, but “Casual” has already been renewed for a 13-episode second season. Her performance is simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious, and reaches some “Office”-level, face-covering, cringe-worthy moments, especially in “…”, as in:

iMessage Ellipsis

Last week’s Thanksgiving episode “Bottles” depicts what might be the most mortifying family dinner imaginable. Proceed with caution. Or, at least, wine.

Binge Watch: “UnREAL”

“UnREAL” has been called one of the “the best TV shows you’re not watching” this summer. And it’s not surprising if you haven’t heard of it, as a weekly drama on Lifetime. And no one would blame you for dismissing it out of hand, as the series follows the production crew and cast of a fictional “The Bachelor”-type reality show.

Stay with me, though, because “UnREAL” is upfront about the ridiculousness of reality dating while creating characters whose identities aren't so easily defined as hero or villain. The show follows producer Rachel (Shiri Appleby), fresh off an on-set nervous breakdown and break-up, as she returns for the latest season of “Everlasting” to see if she can manufacture a love story between British playboy Adam (Freddie Stroma) and his league of potential brides without selling her soul.     

You don’t have to like reality television to enjoy “UnREAL,” especially since most of your prejudices against the genre may be affirmed: it’s not real; the participants are out for fame, not love; the only people who are more screwed up than the contestants are the people running this circus. 

And if you are a “Bachelor” diehard fan, you might be interested to know that “UnREAL” is based on a short film, “Sequin Raze”, written and directed by former “The Bachelor” producer Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who co-created “UnREAL” with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” veteran Marti Noxon. The tried and true tropes of reality dating shows are so subtly documented that only faithful viewers (including all us hate-watchers) may notice them.

The series confronts some of the touchy subjects that its “real-life” counterparts handle without much grace, like race relations, antiquated gender politics, mental illness…even death. It gets really dark.

The season finale of “UnREAL” airs on Lifetime on Monday, August 3 at 10 p.m. Previous episodes are available through On Demand, the Lifetime App or mylifetime.com (cable subscription required for episodes 1-5).

Are you watching “UnREAL”? What do you think of reality dating shows? Let us know in the comments!


Image via Lifetime