TL;DR- Show good. Go watch.
Somewhere amidst the Yiddish spitfire, Benjamin-Britten-sprinkled soundtrack, female comedian lead (whattttt) and meticulous acting (I’m looking at you, Luke Kirby) this young jew-ish viewer fell in love.
Now recall that I’ve said “young” – so, no, I was not alive for Lenny Bruce or the flux of potential Midge-inspiring female comics of the early-to-mid 20th century, including but not limited to Joan Rivers, Phyllis Diller, and Jackie “Moms” Mabley. But I was Bat-Mitzvah’d, which means I am entitled to comment with final authority on each and every aspect of Judaism. (Yes this is true.) And though I may also be a performer myself, I inevitably feel that my genuine appreciation of this show is not brought upon solely through my own personal predilections. In other words: anybody can dig this ish. It’s just that good. But, since I do have a bit of personal interest in this whole jewish female comedian thing, I can’t help but peek through that lens.
Back to my age: I bring this up in response to some of the (extremely few) negative reviews out there. They seem, by and large, hung up on the historical accuracy of the actor’s portrayals. But this is no documentary or precious thing – it is a very human portrait of the characters we find in our daily lives. And because of these marvelous (heh) portrayals, I happen to believe that the actors’ work can thrive independent of historical accuracy. For example: Lenny Bruce is the only explicitly-based character in the series, and a major influencer to many comedians that came after him. But I think it’s less important for Luke Kirby to be an imitator than it is for him to be a creator. He gives us a version of Lenny Bruce that fits within the shows narrative, and uses his artistic license to give him originality and substance. His physical control, the inflections in his voice, this very embodiment of the comedian we can imagine to be The Lenny Bruce plays the exact role in the series that we need it to. His performance does not need to be a mirror image for it to ring true.
Now onto the whole Jewish thing. Some have turned their nose at the way Midge’s father-in-law plays off a dark and damaging stereotype. He constantly brings up the fact that he saved “THIRTEEN JEWS! THIRTEEN!” from the war, yet simultaneously employs them in his factory to work for a low wage and minimum time off. While I find his character hypocritical, selfish, and by no means a representation of our people as a whole, he has his inner complexities: a concerned father who wants nothing more than for his son to find love and financial success. Is he merely a product of the world he was raised in, where Jews escaping persecution struggled tooth and nail to bring respect to their name? Perhaps. Did he get carried away, and can only now see the material value of the world around him and the status which he holds? I believe so. Of course, there is much more to his character as a whole, but in general, I do not find him an insult to Jewish history. A true insult would be to portray us as a perfect people, because that would deny us our humanity.
(Side note: Shout out to my grandmother for implanting yiddish terminology into my mind. It helps me deal with the meshuggana’s of the world. And the tchotchke’s. Oy.)
Now, as for the soundtrack, a pretty thorough dissection has been performed over at Vulture, and it’s worth reading. I won’t get into how important the music is to this show, and how much thought clearly went into it – since this has pretty much already been done. But I will say that the classical music nerd in me reared its lavishly wig-cloaked head the moment I heard that telltale pizzicato melody of Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony in the first episode(!). Major points to Amy Sherman-Palladino and her team for choosing a great classical piece from a composer alive during the era. *claps*
My last thought is reserved for Midge herself. We watch her develop from a woman who sees herself through her husbands eyes – as the keeper of their home (and of her meticulously made-up face) – into a woman who starts to see herself for who she wants to be. Their breakup allowed her the freedom to create herself, and her stand-up foray provided the first real insight into her soul. My only desire is that we saw a bit more of this internal struggle – how absolutely panicked she must have been to realize that she had never truly known herself! Of course we see glimpses of this in her stand up, where she toys with the idea of her previous life – the children, the husband, the everything – not being really “for her”. But girl, if my life was pulled out from under my feet and I had nothing of my own self to fall back on, my ass would be Baker Acted *in*a*heart*beat* (aka, involuntarily detained for a 72 hour psychiatric evaluation). But, of course, Rachel Brosnahan makes it look damn easy, and all is forgiven.
That’s all she wrote. Go watch it.