If you haven’t yet visited Season ONE of this Amazon Prime Video classic… stop reading now. You don’t live in Todd Flora’s America. We’re pulling your card. For those of you who are true Todd Flora’s Americans, read ahead only if you don’t mind some modest contextual spoilers for Season 2.
Season 2 is a fantastic whirlwind that proves even more ambitious than the legendary first season. In the sophomore offering, we get story and setting arcs in Paris, the Catskills, and a telethon appearance for Midge to make a star turn. We get almost too much of Joel and his parents (although I can’t resist Kevin Pollack, ever). We also see more of Midge’s brother, Noah, who’s converted wife has become an almost militant adherent to the tenets of Judaism. Noah has a secret that I won’t reveal here, but let’s just say Tony Shalhoub’s patriarch “Abe” is very down on his children and the secrets they seem to be keeping from him in 1959.
Let’s view the season through a brief look at the impressive set of top-line characters:
- Abe (Tony Shalhoub) – Sure, we all love Henry Winkler on “Barry.” But come September, 2019, if Tony Shalhoub doesn’t win the Emmy for best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series… I will literally turn professional arsonist and burn the Television Academy (or whatever it’s called) to the ground! This season, his performance as “Abe” is spellbinding. One can’t help but laugh at his intense neurosis and need to control every situation – often with a scientific justification. From his rollercoaster at Bell labs, to his disappointment in the secrets kept from him by his children, Abe is a tour de force of both intentional and unintentional comedy. Shalhoub’s “Abe” cartoonishly overacts where his character calls for such charisma, and beautifully under-acts when staring at his daughter in disappointment upon stumbling onto one of her stand up gigs. He…must…win…the Emmy!
- Susie (Alex Borstein) – Once again, Alex Borstein shines as Midge’s oddly and overly loyal manager, Susie. Midge consistently lets her down with her selfishness, but Susie presses on, convinced Midge’s brand will be a world beater and make her career. She suffers what ends up being a “friendly” kidnapping, a pretend job as a plumber in the Catskills, and a hard-nosed fixer who goes beyond Midge’s wishes for revenge. In every moment, her overt seriousness produces endless laughs. Her character is the only one on the show self-aware enough to realize just how ridiculous Midge’s family and others in her upper crust existence really are. In a sense, she takes on the role of audience representative.
- Joel (Michael Zegen) – As much as we’re not supposed to like Joel, I can’t help but wonder how his reemergence into reality and responsibility is going to turn out. He’s clearly a talented manager, and will likely put his family’s business on a more legally sustainable path from the standpoint of a CFO. However, his father doesn’t like seeing his son working late into the night, and is afraid he’ll never live life or find love again. So Moshe gives Joel $60,000 to leave the business. Just what will he do with the money? The show offers one frame during the Telethon that seems to suggest he’s going to invest in Midge… I guess we’ll find out in Season 3!
- Rose (Marin Hinkle) – 20 years ago, I thought Marin Hinkle was just the “kinda hot younger sister” to Sela Ward on “Once and Again.” A decent actress, but I guess I had no idea how good. Now, barely old enough to be Midge’s mom chronologically, her impressive acting on display in Season 2 really awakens “Rose,” bouncing between a woke existence in Paris to traditional ‘50s society mom in the Catskills and at home in NYC. She even stumbles back into the fortune teller’s office and ruins the idea of an art career for several younger fellow students (She’s auditing classes) at Columbia. The range she exhibits this season is an impressive fete, and I hope she is also recognized come Emmy’s 2019.
- Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) – as our titular character, the 28-year-old Brosnahan shines as the beautiful comedienne. She also shows this season how incredibly selfish and out of touch she is, particularly in scenes with the struggling, working-class Susie. She up and goes to the Catskills for two months just as Susie is starting to catch fire in booking a rash of gigs for her, and she’s portrayed as a borderline terrible parent who barely knows her kids. I don’t think I’ve ever found myself rooting for a character that is as entitled and self-absorbed as Midge. And yet I do so unapologetically. But Brosnahan is brilliant with the Daniel + Amy Sherman-Palladino created zippy dialogue, and nobody looks better in late ‘50s fashion. She ruins a friend’s wedding that she helped arrange beautifully, and yet I wouldn’t hesitate to ask her to plan my own if I were doing it over again. Despite her faults, she’s infectious. Her decision to be alone and chose this life may not be good news for Benjamin or a second act with Joel, but it promises to launch her into stardom in Season 3 following that surprising performance at the end of the telethon. We shall see, and I can’t wait!