This year has been a wild one for Marvelous Mrs. Maisel co-creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. After years of laboring over critically beloved series like Gilmore Girls that didnt pull in ratings or awards (Gilmore won a single Emmy in seven seasons, for makeup), Sherman-Palladino found herself at the center of the awards spotlight for her new comedy Maisel—an Amazon series about a woman finding her voice in comedy in 1950s New York. At the start of 2018, the show won two Golden Globe awards; in September, a few days after Sherman-Palladino finished shooting Season 2, Maisel swept the Emmys, taking home five awards, including best comedy series, writing, directing, and lead actress for Rachel Brosnahan. And now, to frame the year, season 2 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will premiere on Amazon on December 5.
After years of working on (and kvetching about) a tight budget, Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino—her longtime collaborator and husband—are visibly reveling in the financial freedom Amazon has extended them for Season 2. Midge Maisels life as a housewife, department-store employee, and secret stand-up comedian is rendered as a technicolor fantasia, complete with gorgeous costumes and—in a first—choreographed musical numbers. “We direct musically,” Sherman-Palladino said, and “we often use dancers as extras because they simply physically move better. So we are halfway to a musical anyhow, and this year we created legitimate places to put musical numbers in.”
In Season 2, the Manhattan-based series makes a diversion to Paris, as well as to the Catskills, where the characters take a deep-dive into the Jewish summer resort scene circa 1959. While Gilmore Girls dwelled in WASP-y Connecticut, Maisel leans hard into New York Jewish culture—though always layered with Sherman-Palladinos trademark blend of delectable escapism and fast-talking charm. This time around, Midge is learning the joys of brutally roasting mediocre male comedians who call her a “girl comic” (“Am I supposed to be intimidated? All I see is a lineup of men who had to go into comedy to get laid”). It is also dawning on her that there will be some trade-offs, which shell stubbornly face kicking and screaming. Sherman-Palladino said Midges awakening is a gradual one, because “she didnt realize she was in a box until she broke out of it.”
Although Midge likes to be the center of attention, Sherman-Palladino intends to make this an ensemble show. That means more glorious screen time for manager Susie (Alex Borstein), who is living a far less charmed life than her client, and a story line for Rose and Abe Maisel (Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub). It also means (less gloriously, from my point of view) trailing Midges ex, Joel (Michael Zegen), as he struggles with his parents garment industry business and comes to terms with the big mistake he made in the Season 1 finale.
The writers are starting to work on Season 3, and Palladino said they already have “a basic idea of what Seasons 4 and 5 will be like as well.” The duo talked to me by phone about Season 2 of Maisel, the curse of female likability, and the possibility of returning to Stars Hollow.
Vanity Fair: Gilmore Girls was famous for its speed-talking. How fast is the dialogue on Maisel versus Gilmore?
Amy Sherman-Palladino: Its actually comparable. Rachel [Brosnahan] is greeeeat at talking fast.
Dan Palladino: Sometimes I ask Rachel to slow down a little bit, and she is always a little bit shocked. She can talk even faster than Lauren Graham.
Sherman-Palladino: No one talks faster than Lauren Graham, come on! But Rachel gives her a run for her money. The difference is, on Maisel, because we have this thing called a budget, we can pay for all of the things we could never pay for on Gilmore Girls—like we can have some air in establishing shots. We can have montages and music and things that slow it down a bit. So the show might not feel as fast, but quite frankly, the [script] page count stacks up exactly the same.
What was your rationale for shooting in Paris this season?
Sherman-Palladino: We didnt want it to be like the Brady Bunch goes to Hawaii, shooting someplace for no reason. But we had laid in some backstory with Rose and her fondness for Paris. After ending Season 1 with the family a little bit on edge—Rose realizing her relationship with Midge was shifting and Abe was keeping stuff from her—they were all on quicksand. [Paris] felt like a good place to go to further our story.
Amy, your parents were both in showbiz and your dad was part of the New York comedy scene in that era. Did you take elements from your family mythology?
Sherman-Palladino: We had no other survival skills in my family.
Palladino: Her father was a comic, her mother was always an entertainer: She was a dancer, she had a cabaret act, she sometimes played Vegas back in the 60s. That is how they met, because her father went to one of her mothers shows and hit on her. For this project, a lot of our inspiration came from both of her parents. I knew Amys father for 25 years. He has passed away now, but you get to know all of the joy of a guy like that, and a lot of the insecurities that are part and parcel of the standup comedy business. He would be hanging out with his friends in the backyard, talking about opening for Johnny Mathis or Danny Kaye. . . . Its funny, we were doing research for our Catskills sequence and our researchers found an advertisement for Amys dad playing the Catskills in 1970!
Theres a growing exhaustion with the pressure on female TV characters to be likeable. Midge is very invested in conventional femininity, but she also has no problem saying the unsayable.
Sherman-Palladino: I think it is one of the most ridiculous things in Hollywood, how they judge women on their likebility. . . . Its a weird barometer and I think it has hurt female actresses a lot. Young actresses will come in to audition and if you have a yelling scene, its like, “Sweetie, yell! Just yell!” Theyre almost apologizing, like, if I yell too much, I am going to be unlikable. To me, that is useless. Is it an interesting character or is it not an interesting character?
Midge is a completely adorable, absolutely confident woman. She thinks she is fantastic, and it takes other people to tell her, oh, by the way, you are not supposed to act like this, you are not supposed to say those things. It would never occur to her.
Palladino: We didnt want her to be someone who, when she is dumped by her husband and has to move in with her parents, is sitting there thinking, my whole life has been a sham and a façade and that is not who I am. . . . With this new path, she is going to have a more exciting life. Shes going to make more money, she will probably have better sex with different men. She will have adventures and perhaps be famous. But she may never be as happy as she was the day before her husband left her. That has been a guiding principle for us—even if you want to judge it a false sense of security, she felt a comfort and a warmth in that life. She may never be able to trust people the way she trusted them before.
Sherman-Palladino: It is a lonelier ride for a woman when you are looking for ambition and money and power. It is going to push away some of those other things that made her feel safe because that is the trade-off.
At one point in her act, Midge says that if comedy is driven by oppression, then women should be the ultimate comedians. But Midge never really felt oppressed, and she wasnt looking to be liberated, was she?
Sherman-Palladino: She didnt learn about oppression or being an outsider until she went into comedy. When she went into comedy, people were saying, “What are you doing here, girly? Why are you dressed like that?” Part of what we love about going into the comedy world through Midges eyes is that she didnt know enough to know what she was going up against. She had always conquered everything she wanted to do. This is the first time anyone has ever told her, ”You cant do that, you cant look like that.” The more someone tells Midge that, the more she is going to bust through. But it is eye-opening to her. She didnt realize she was in a box until she broke out of it.
Last season I saw some discussion about how Midge barely interacts with her children. This season you make a joke out of her forgetting about the baby once she gets to the Catskills.
Sherman-Palladino: In the 50s people didnt treat their children the way people treat their children today. Children did not dominate a parents life. Also, you are dealing with a woman who went into a marriage and had children because, in her head, it was a postcard of what life was supposed to be. We have her talking onstage about how she didnt really think about it: ”What if I wasnt meant to be a mother? What if that was not the path I was supposed to take?” This is a woman now having serious doubts about everything she had taken for granted.
The deeper she goes into comedy, the less of a good mother she is going to be. When you are on the road, you are on the road. Its part of what we want to do with Midge as a character. As you give up that stay-at-home safe life, you get all of these wonderful perks, but they come with things like, someone else is maybe going to take care of your kids. . . . Joel is actually much more of an invested father than a lot of fathers were in the 50s. But there are things that will fall through the cracks, things she didnt think about in that moment of pure ambition. Midge is a woman of cutthroat ambition, which is something she is learning about herself.
I thought when they split, Joel would fade into the background but he is very prominent in Season 2.
Sherman-Palladino: We love Joel! He will never fade away.
Palladino: Joel at his core is a good man who succumbed to his weaknesses and made a fatal mistake that he is going to be paying for the rest of his life. If you flash-forward 40 years from now, he is still going to be kicking himself. It doesnt matter if he has a new family and is successful, he is always going to feel guilty for what he did. . . . His redemption is probably the hardest thing that we have to do on the show as writers.
Sherman-Palladino: Joel is the guy who, at a time when you didnt want the wife to upstage you, picked a woman who upstaged him. He found her taking the spotlight endearing—he may have even sensed in her what finally came true, which is that she is the star. Something about that, for me, explains, (a) why she loves him, and (b) makes him not just a cad. A lot of men wouldve looked at Midge and thought, she is adorable but she is too much for me. Joel wanted the spotlight girl and that says something about him as a man.
This season, you are also lining up a love interest who can handle Midges too-muchness.
Sherman-Palladino: The interesting thing is, we actually talked very little about her love life because there is so much going on in her career and it is so important to her. Quite frankly, we view Midge and Joel like Desi [Arnaz] and [Lucille Ball]. They divorced and married other people and had other families, and yet the enduring picture of them in my mind is a picture from a home movie of them together in her pool playing with the grandkids. . . . The timing and maturity level was wrong, but [Midge] will probably never love anyone close to the way she loved Joel.
Midges family apartment looks like a palace compared to the “classic 6” Upper West Side apartments I know. Is it important to have a little of the fairy tale in TV real estate?
Sherman-Palladino: For the pilot, we actually shot in a real apartment and then we re-created it on a soundstage. The real apartment is much bigger than the one we built on stage. It was magnificent and it went on and on and on! It was owned by a doctor who was 1,000 years old and probably bought it for $3.
I was thinking about class and privilege as I watched the new episodes. Midge has a safety net, and her family can afford to traipse off to the Catskills for the summer. Meanwhile, her manager, Susie, is broke and starving.
Palladino: Midge is a little oblivious to that. She has never interacted with someone that basically wasnt in her class . . . Its hard to say whether a woman who is 27 or 28 years old and has always lived in this bubble is going to ever understand that, but she will be going on the road more. A lot of show business is not glamorous, and she will experience some of that later in Season 2.
Sherman-Palladino: And we deal with it on a different level with the Weissmans and the Maisels. Midges family is very comfortable and educated and sophisticated. Joel comes from a family that had nothing and fought their way up. Its different kinds of Jewish experience. A lot of the time thats where you get your conflict in your comedy, from class!
If there is justice in the universe, you will make a spin-off centered on Susie.
Sherman-Palladino: Alex Borstein is so great and we are so lucky to finally get her. She was the original Sookie in Gilmore Girls, and they wouldnt let that happen. Now we got her and we are dragging her all over the place—and making her miss her kids. . . . Eventually we will have enough material for the spin-off, Heres Susie!
There was buzz about continuing the Gilmore Girls revival. Any news on that front?
Sherman-Palladino: Its still a possibility. Everyone has been very busy. Alexis [Bledel] clearly is very busy! It would have to be the right story, and the right moment. A lot went into getting it together the first time.
Do you still think about the characters and what they would be doing now? Id like to see how Stars Hollow is faring in the Trump era. I mean, would Taylor Doose be wearing a MAGA hat?
Sherman-Palladino: Its very upsetting, but yes. Yes, he would.
Palladino: Trump comes along and yeah, what happens to a small town like that? Taylor might become more fully aware of the man he is and stand up against Trump. Who knows?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Joy PressJoy Press is a T.V. Correspondent for Vanity Fair. Her book, Stealing the Show: How Women Are Revolutionizing Television, was released in February.