“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”: Bringing Comedy to the Common Man (and Woman)

I know I’m not alone when I declare that I’m a big fan of the Amazon Prime series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisal”.  With 4 Emmy’s, and 20 nominations for this year’s awards- it’s clearly one of the best series in recent times. 

Why is it so great?  From the first episode, the premise is unique and brilliant.  The high concepts are intellectual, yet gut-busting hilarious.  Acting- top notch.  Set design, costumes and music are the best I can remember- you feel like you’re literally in late 1950’s New York.  So many of the single-frame images are works of art that I would frame and put on my wall.  And has anyone noticed that they often times end the episode with a 90’s alt-rock song?  For some reason- even that is somehow pitch perfect.

To me- what is particularly Marvelous about Mrs. Maisel is that it celebrates something we all witness in our day-to-day lives, but may never have explicitly recognized prior to the show.  What it recognizes are the people in our lives that are true comedians.  But they’re not comedians by profession, they’re just undeniably hilarious.  They didn’t train at Groundlings, Second City or the Improv- yet, they’re just as funny as they share their daily tales and observations.  They can be our relatives, co-workers, acquaintances, you know who I’m talking about.  You’ve had countless moments with them where you’re falling off your chair, unstoppably laughing.

For those of you that have seen the show, you know that this is Mrs. Maisel.  A true natural comedienne.  She tells stories taken from her life that (most of the time) have audiences wrapped around her finger.  Whether she’s sharing a story at a party, comedy club or with a friend- she tells it like no one else.

So cheers to those unrecognized comedians and of course- comediennes of the world, who keep us all sane.  As  Midge says,  “Comedy is fueled by oppression, by the lack of power, by sadness and disappointment, by abandonment and humiliation. Now, who the hell does that describe more than women? Judging by those standards, only women should be funny.”

“Russian Doll” – Netflix review

I just finished watching the new Netflix series, Russian Doll, created by Natasha Lyonne (from Orange is the New Black), Amy Pohler and Leslye Headland.  I’d give it a B+ rating, and overall it was quite the satisfying experience…

First off, I love Netflix shows that are less than a half hour per episode.  The Russian Doll episodes range from 24 to 30 minutes, and there’s just something about ending the day with a quick iPhone fix to take your mind off the day’s madness.  I feel like watching 5 minutes of a top Colbert, Kimmel or Fallon clip doesn’t do the job, but watching a full hour at the end of the day gets you to bed late and thinking, “why did I stay up to midnight to watch that?!!!”.

I digress.  Russian Doll is not a mainstream Netflix series for everyone, it’s not Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black or House of Cards.  This is a trippy, indie movie-like experience that is for those that like an edgy, thoughtful mind$%)@.  If you’ve read anything about it or watched the trailer- they fool you into thinking it’s a 2019 version of Bill Murray’s, Groundhog Day.  Not so much.  It’s a little bit Kubrick, a little bit Christopher Nolan and even a bit Hitchcock. 

Who would have expected this from the quirky drug addict character from Orange is the New Black, Natasha Lyonne?  I was pleasantly surprised, and there’s a whole lot more in that package than I expected.  She helped create an uber intellectual, clever series here.  And Amy Pohler’s contribution is the icing on the cake, she adds a dose of comic relief that can be a nice break while your head is spinning from the rabbit hole this one goes down.

But what I want to give Russian Doll the most credit for is how it mirrors life itself, by posing a number of those big ‘unanswerable questions’.  To me- it’s the unanswerable questions (“why are we here?”, “what’s our purpose?”, “what’s the key to life?”) that are the most interesting to explore.  And in these little half hour snippets, she tackles those in a most interesting fashion.  And as any great artist would do, they don’t attempt to serve up those answers in a nice, pretty package.  They leave them as open as the sky is wide, and leave you scratching your head saying… “what was that all about?”.  Truly brilliant.

Black Mirror / Bandersnatch: Movie Review

I just finished watching the groundbreaking Netflix’ Black Mirror episode, BandersnatchBandersnatch is an interactive film to be watched on a device (ala iPhone), and it enables you to make click certain choices throughout watching, and changes the storyline based on your decision.  If you grew up in the early 80’s, this is like the high tech version of The Abominable Snowman and The Forbidden Castle “Choose Your Own Adventure” paperback books.  The average viewing is 90 minutes, but it can range from 40 to 150 minutes.  So while I say I finished watching it, what does that even mean?

Bandersnatch re-invented storytelling as we know it.  Sure, I suppose it’s a bit gimmick’y, but if the technology is developed thoughtfully, I think it can truly create an entirely new experience.  The risk is to fall into the trap of the recent iterations of 3D and Virtual Reality, which were the latest shiny objects that haven’t substantively enhanced the storytelling experience.  But what I feel to be different about this interactive approach is how much more engaging and immersive it is.  Not just the way it ‘looks’, but the way the story unfolds.  It felt personal.  As I made the choices, I felt like I was making ‘my story’, not the one that the writer or director were forcing on me.  As I made my choices, I even found myself self-reflecting a bit (“wait, am I a bad person to choose the red pill???”).  The only concern here is a potential privacy issue, where Netflix may be gathering quite a bit of data on my decision making. But that’s a whole different story.

In addition to this fascinating new TV tech, I love that it was the Black Mirror series pioneering the possibilities of interactive film.  I am a huge fan of Black Mirror.  It is undoubtedly the heir to the Twilight Zone throne for the current era.  It continues to push the boundaries of the possible, in a very dark and creepy manner.  It explores just a smidge past the boundaries of today’s technology, and poses brilliantly freaky ‘what if’ scenarios.  All with top notch writing, directing and acting.  The cinemography is a rare gem where you could take a snapshot from just about any scene- and frame it on the wall as art.  The scores and soundtracks are timely, lush and eery at all the right moments.  The Thompson Twins, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Kajagoogoo all setting the scene for Bandersnatch’s 1984 era storyline.  Brilliant.

I thought it would be worth mentioning that I just finished watching most of this year’s Best Picture contenders for this year’s Oscars, and while a few of them had some merit, I have to say that TV series’ like this Black Mirror episode take the cake.  Look at some of the current TV and streaming series, and they’re clearly doing a much finer job than today’s movies.  It’s often said that the smaller budget, art house movies of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are a thing of the past.  The movie studios are no longer financing what were great movies, and from what I can see- it looks like TV has taken over where they left off.  And when you add this kind of groundbreaking technology to superior writing and directing- movies are sadly getting left in the dust.

So I certainly recommend the latest Black Mirror interactive film, Bandersnatch.  And I look forward to seeing how Black Mirror, Netflix and the future TV and movie industries take full advantage of this fascinating new way of telling an old fashioned, good story.