In season three, Amy Sherman-Palladino’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel finally gives us what we’ve been waiting for: characters of color! Check out with latinamedia.co co-founders thought of the latest installment and the risks and rewards of better representation.
CRISTINA: Wow was season three a departure from the lily-white spectacles of the first 18 episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel! Gone was the awkward smoke break with black musicians, the lone black shopgirl forced to represent all of non-white New York. Instead, we got real characters of color and they were done surprisingly well. I was worried when Stephanie Hsu’s Mei Lin showed up. They gave her a lot of Asian stereotypes (Chinese, studying medicine, the eating-feet joke, etc.) but she turned out to be one of my favorite additions to the show. They not only didn’t saddle her with an accent, but they also made her Midge’s equal, which up until now didn’t seem possible on this show. By that lovely moment when Mei and Midge meet at the bar, I was totally sold. The only that that was hard to believe was that Joel had such great taste in women.
NICOLA: I agree the most shocking thing about Mei Lin is the fact that she’d be interested in a divorced dad trying to open his own bar in the first place. Talk about dating down. Mei is clearly a leader in her community, smart, accomplished and studying to be a doctor. It was also difficult to watch how the Chinese community was portrayed this season. While they tried to offer nuance with Mei, the rest of her community was relegated to the background or the not so metaphorical basement of the show. Mei is the only character who speaks, while the other Chinese characters only talk through her or stop talking when Joel comes down to check the fuse box or monologue about his interest in Mei. This relationship proves the trend I’ve seen in film and TV for decades, women almost always are 10 times more accomplished than their romantic counterparts, more so if they’re women of color dating a white man. And while I love her as a character, a part of me feels their relationship is just a replica of Joel and Midge’s — I hope soon Mei will realize that she deserves more than a man whose threatened by accomplished women. I would love to see her end up with a wealthy, successful and funny doctor like Benjamin who bonus has no ex-wife and always supported Midge’s career.
CRISTINA: Maybe Joel has learned something? Maybe he’ll overcome that fear? I mean if Sherman-Palladino can get Sterling K. Brown on her show, anything is possible! Seeing him definitely made me feel like they were doing it right. And his Reggie was wonderful, warm and tough, smart and fallible, protective and human. I loved the scenes between him and Susie. Their manager-to-manager moments got to the heart of the show and why Susie as the force-behind-the-marvelousness is often more interesting to watch than Midge herself. We’re used to watching stars but perhaps more intrigued by seeing how they’re made.
NICOLA: Sterling K. Brown is clearly one of the hardest working men in Hollywood. I was happily surprised to see him on this show, after his work in This Is Us, and yes, even Frozen 2. What I am more disappointed in is the fact that he seems to have to play the teacher/educator to white characters. While on This Is Us he definitely has his own agency, he often is the one who has to teach his only family about race and what it means to be Black in America. While his role in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is different and he definitely brings nuance and agency to his character, I found the scene with Susie with him in the barbershop a little more than unrealistic. The barbershop has a lot of historical significance as a place where Black Americans could debate ideas, politics and engage with their community in a space just for them. Using this setting for Susie’s plot point reflects a blind spot that this show still has.
CRISTINA: It was so unnecessary to have it there! Centering Susie’s point of view in a black barbershop was wildly tone-deaf. More on tune? Arguably the most important POC on the show, Leroy McClain’s Shy Baldwin. At first, I was worried that they were going to pair him up with Midge and I didn’t like it. I had no confidence the show could handle it well, particularly as it seemed like they were setting up his black masculinity as an over-the-top temptation. So when he turned out to be gay, I was pleasantly surprised. And I particularly appreciated the sensitivity in which they handled what it’d be like to be a black, gay musician at the time.
NICOLA: Shy Baldwin is currently my favorite character on the show. And the character he is given as a black entertainer in the 60s could have gone dangerously stereotypical. Instead, he is given agency and a complete storyline separate from Midge and her world. His character is given room to breathe and take up space, even when it means pushing an often clueless Midge out of the picture or even off the plane. I appreciate that the writers gave him a functional life where he would continue to be successful and unaltered without Midge there. Unfortunately, at this point, I couldn’t say the same about Mei whose relationship with Joel is the only way she can exist in this marvelous world.
CRISTINA: Do you think Midge crossed a line with her stand up at the Apollo though? Her jokes all seem so stayed compared to what gets said about LGBTQ folks today but that doesn’t mean they weren’t barrier pushing at the time. I agreed that they certainly wink at his sexuality without acknowledging it but that doesn’t mean they’re not derogatory. Watching the scene, I kept waiting for an absolutely clear, cringe-inducing joke to come out of her mouth but it never came. That said, I understand why Shy cut her in the end. I guess I think both of them can be right.
NICOLA: Once she said the phrase “Judy Garland” I knew a line had been crossed even though it was subtle. Judy Garland and “Friends of Dorothy” were often used as a euphemism to talking about sexuality without actually discussing it, especially in the 60s. I appreciated the overall subtilty because I think Midge is often clueless to the damage a word, phrase, or action could cause, especially if you’re a Black gay man in America. I think subtle isn’t an adjective that even Shy can allow. On the tarmac, Reggie says it all when he simply says “You’re not friends.” Because in the end, friendship is more than just sharing champagne on a boat or having one heart to heart, it’s understanding and acknowledging your differences as well.
CRISTINA: Right and Midge is not so great at that. In fact, any scene where she’s not the center, where she smiles at others jokes or has to sit in the background kind of fails. She just disappears and I’d be left wondering where all her marvelousness went. That said, this season had everything that fans of the first two will love, the beautiful costumes, cinematography, and set pieces. The charm of the supporting cast, particularly Midge’s parents (Marin Hinkle as Rose was particularly phenomenal this time around and Tony Shalhoub again delivered an amazing performance). And they addressed some of the annoying things about the earlier seasons (finally Midge accomplishes something and thinks of someone other than herself) but not everything (her landing that Apollo set was a bit hard to believe). And of course, the biggest, glaring problem was the lack of diversity.
NICOLA: I like this season a lot and much credit also goes to Midge’s parents who are natural scene-stealers and continue to be some of my favorite characters as they struggle with their new life phase. I think this show was definitely improved by adding Mei, Shy, and Reggie to the cast — not only are they strong, dynamic characters but they continue to push and challenge Midge and that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
CRISTINA: Looking to season four, my biggest hope is for Susie to finally get a love interest. They’ve already done gay, no reason to turn back (if she is indeed as gay as she seems). She didn’t need that gambling problem this season! Imagine how much more interesting a lover would have been! Anyway, I’ll be tuning in, assuming they bring Mei back.
NICOLA: Same! I love Mei and if they take her off the show just because things might end with Joel, I’ll be pissed. Because women of color are not just plot tools, and I hope they honor her character and maybe give her a dynamic storyline that doesn’t include Joel. My big hope is for behind the camera, currently, there are no writers or directors of color on the show. I hope next season Mrs. Maisel doesn’t just add people of color in front of the camera but behind it as well. I know this would make the show better and allow it to better tell the stories of the characters that represent our communities.