Television: A recap for March

I’ve been meaning to write about the television shows I’ve watched in the recent past. This list isn’t complete, but it is my hope that I will write more often once I get started. Here we go then, without further delay.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 1)

Miriam (Midge) Maisel is an Upper West Side princess, a Jewish woman, wife and mother, a college graduate, a typical 1960s homemaker, elegant and beautiful. She is happy being all of these things. She doesn’t realise it yet, but she is also a very funny woman. We don’t realise it yet, but we will soon be cheering for Midge, to stand up for herself, to take down sexism in ways she knows best, to revel in her femininity, and to have fun while she’s doing all of that.

As we are introduced to the characters, we see Midge encouraging her husband Joel to pursue his interest in stand-up comedy, even if he isn’t great at it. She takes notes during his acts, bribes the club’s manager with brisket so her husband would get a chance to perform, and is generally supportive. When Joel leaves her for his secretary, she is devastated. A successful marriage is what she has been groomed for. She drinks more than she should, turns up at the club, Gaslight, where Joel usually performs, and lets loose her frustration. Her comedic routine turns out to be original, raw, heartfelt, and funny, in ways her husband could never be.

The rest of the season follows Midge around as she learns how to work her newfound talent. She makes mistakes and gets better. She befriends Susie, who works at the Gaslight, and who becomes her manager. They converse and argue like two women would, they disappoint each other and they patch up. She forgives her husband but doesn’t take him back. She creates an identity for herself in a space where women are not welcome.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is an enjoyable show, one in which people are innately good, the costumes are spectacular, the conversations witty and quick; with many genuine laughs along the way.

Big Little Lies (Limited Series)

This show is based on a book by Liane Moriarty that I have not read, so I cannot comment on how faithful it was to its print version.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this show, with its celebrity star cast, and what appeared to be turf wars fought by rich women on school playgrounds. It all starts off with a murder, and we don’t know until the end who has been killed (though we can easily guess), and a girl in the first grade who accuses a boy of hurting her. As the episodes unravel, we get to see the cracks in these expensive facades, the hard work it takes to make a relationship appear perfect, and the various kinds of violence that women are subject to. I was surprised by the depth the show seemed to possess, and I would like to talk about one particular character, Celeste (Nicole Kidman).

Celeste used to be a lawyer. She is now wife of Perry, mother to twin boys Max and Josh, wealthy, attractive, and always wearing full-sleeved shirts so her bruises don’t draw attention. Her life seems perfect to an outsider. Her husband is a monster – he hits her, apologizes and treats her well for a little while, and then hits her again. Celeste knows this is wrong, but much of their sexual life is tied up in this twisted power play, so she feels partly responsible for and ashamed about what happens in her bedroom. It is worth noting how difficult it is for her to leave her life behind and start all over again, in spite of having the resources to do so.

That the show is only seven episodes long works in its favour, we get the sense of having known these characters, and we watch them getting the closure they yearned for.

Ugly Delicious

Chef David Chang takes us from Japan to Denmark to his childhood home in Virginia, on a culinary tour that is both memorable and meaningful. Chang is a brash and opinionated presence – one of his friends who appears on the show even makes fun of him for this, saying, “He thinks he knows everything.” But he is also curious, excitable, open to new experiences, and willing to admit when he’s wrong. He is the child of immigrants from Korea, and this provides the show with a lens that is different from the standard perspective offered by white American men.

In this show, he explores many kinds of food and food experiences – the pizza, the taco, the barbecue tradition in America, and so on. He doesn’t shy away from serious issues – like how the popularity of a cuisine helps an immigrant population integrate into the American society, or the historical context behind black people eating fried chicken, or what we mean when we talk about food traditions.

I have always been slightly partial to shows about food, even if they may be terrible, but I think this show has a lot going for it. Though it might make you long for things you can’t eat.

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