NEW YORK — This time of year means two things: figuring out which holiday parties you can avoid without causing any controversy, and binging the new season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the funniest (my opinion) and most Jewish (everyone’s opinion) television show out there right now. Indeed, the lure of digging into Season 3 may be reason for skipping yet another evening with work associates holding red plastic cups of Prosecco.
Last year I had the chance to speak to the series creator, the brilliant Amy Sherman-Palladino, and her second-in-command (and husband) Daniel Palladino. A year later, at the very same hotel with the very same deli nosh in the courtesy area, I was back. This time to speak with supporting players Marin Hinkle, Caroline Aaron, and Kevin Pollak.
Season 3 of the Amazon series picks up right where we left off. We’re just about to enter the 1960s, but most of the social changes synonymous with that decade feel eons away. Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is about to hit the road opening for Nat “King” Cole-esque singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain), leaving her children behind with her (almost) ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegan). For the conservative norms of the period, this is unheralded behavior. But her extended family — her parents, Abe and Rose Weissman, and Joel’s parents, Moishe and Shirley Maisel — realize that she actually does have a special talent. Plus, it’s not like Midge would listen to them anyway.
The extended family has gotten some of the biggest laughs from the margins of the show. Season 3 offers something wonderful for fans of both sets of parents – a lot more screen time.
The garment industry has been good to the elder Maisels (Kevin Pollak and Caroline Aaron) so they head to the promised land for upwardly mobile New York Jews of the late 1950s: Forest Hills, Queens. Their new place has some extra rooms, and it’s a good thing it does, because it was only after Abe quit his teaching job at Columbia University that he realized his “classic six” on West End Avenue was offered to them at reduced rates by the school. While Midge is away, the Weissmans (and Zelda the maid) become the Maisels’ new roommates.
Before they do, though, Rose makes a play to increase her draw from her family trust, but when she’s treated with sexist disrespect by her brothers, she stomps out of her childhood home. Said stomping is done, however, with cowboy boots. In a surprise move we learn that Rose is an “Oklahoma Jew,” and the family money comes from oil. A bit of a surprise!
“Amy is a true genius, and can have an epiphany – this is where Rose is from!” Hinkel told me about her character’s surprising roots. “It makes sense, then, that Rose then worked that hard – to get rid of the accent, to make sure that nobody knows that’s where she’s from.”
Hinkel said she was given no advance warning. “’Here’s the script, tomorrow we’ll be shooting that’ and I went ‘whoa whoa cowboy hat?!’”
The actress, who many may remember from her time on “Two and a Half Men,” also said she and Rose are quite different in real life. “I’m not a good dresser! I never appreciated clothes before. Sure, I would flip through magazines at a doctor’s office, but I’m no fashionista. But I do have an appreciation now for how people put themselves together.”
Caroline Aaron, a longtime character actress who has worked with directors such as Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, and Woody Allen, didn’t compare herself to her character Shirley Maisel, but did offer a considerable amount of affection for her. “Hers is a fault of personality, not one of character,” she said, quoting her own mother. Then adding: “She’s a lot, but I love her! You’d introduce her to your friends, but with a warning.”
Shirley, who has the elegance of a coked-up rhinoceros, gets one of the funniest bits in the entire series early on this season, which is saying quite a bit. With the rather terse and dignified Rose looking on, Shirley races out into the street calling for her grandson, who is probably playing at a neighbor’s house. Her husky voice cuts like a knife, annoying the entire block as she announces all the snacks she can offer. “Peanut butter. Peanut butter and jelly!” and so forth.
“She has no sense of boundaries, and there’s something very endearing about that,” Aaron said about the Jewish grandma shrieking in the middle of the street. “Think about it, it’s loud and intrusive, but it comes from largesse and generosity. You come here, you will be nourished and taken care of.”
Kevin Pollak, whose character Moishe is the type of guy to shout, “I’m coming downstairs but I’m not wearing any pants!” (even if people are over), is, as he put it, “as loud and obnoxious as any person I’ve ever seen, but everyone I know in my inner circle have told me, ‘This is the role I was born to play.’”
When I told him that Moishe isn’t obnoxious, that he’s wonderful, he shrugged and said, “Well, okay, good for you.”
Pollak got his start in comedy, but a generation after Midge. Though the show certainly makes the era look glamorous, he said, “there were no discussions of what we missed,” when he was starting out in San Francisco. “I’m a California Jew, so we’re practically Catholic,” he noted.
One of the things that makes the new season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” so wonderful is its generosity toward the characters. While at first Joel and his infidelity positioned him as the villain, his relationship with Midge has evolved. You are basically rooting for everybody.
“There are conflicts,” Pollak said, pointing out that there’s something brewing with Susie’s character in episodes that I haven’t seen yet. “But not within the families. There aren’t villains. But Moishe and Abe are an eternal conflict.”
“The obstacles are the times in which they live, she’s pushing against what is preordained for women,” Aaron said when thinking about an antagonist. When I told her I just want Midge to succeed, she agreed.
If there are problems, “We’ll be back next year and we can kill Amy together,” she joked.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Seasons 1 – 2 are streamable on Amazon Prime Video. Season 3 drops on December 6.