Squawk Box: Marvelous Mrs. Maisel/Succession

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel comes to a close with its fifth season and while I'm sure that Amy Sherman-Palladino probably has a lot more left in her creative tank and is, as far as I know in good health and not in danger of shuffling off this mortal coil anytime soon, one hopes, I'm going to go ahead and shoot my shot: I think this might be her masterpiece. It might be her magnum opus. She might do something else to eclipse it, of course, but right now, this is her brass ring.

I don't know if she's always wanted to do a period piece, but given the fact her production company is called Dorothy Parker Drank Here and her dialogue from Gilmore Girls to the lamentably short-lived Bunheads is chock full of pop culture references that go back decades- hell, pretty much all the way to Proust, if not before, you have to think that it was percolating somewhere for her and with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, she hit it out of the park.

At the close of the previous season, Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) made a vow to herself to somehow get on the Gordon Ford Show and then walked home in a blizzard but she recovers from hypothermia with a new sense of purpose and determination to make it happen for herself and tells Susie (Alex Borstein) that she's no longer going to reject opening act gigs. The burlesque club she had been performing at reopens and she manages to impress Gordon Ford (Reid Scott) enough to land a job on his show as a staff writer. 

Midge adjusts to the male-dominated staff writer's room and eventually gets one of her jokes on the air- but Gordon flubs it and eventually, after a public argument, Gordon makes a pass at her which she rejects and then soon learns of a bigger problem: no one who works on the show actually gets to be on the show. It's the one rock-solid rule they have and there have never been any exceptions.

While she works on that- Joel's (Michael Zegen) relationship with Mei falls apart and his parents Moishe (Kevin Pollack) and Shirley (Caroline Aaron) announce they're divorcing over Moishe's refusal to retire. Rose, (Marin Hinkle) having drawn the wroth of the Matchmakers in the previous season is now convinced they're responsible for various nefarious happenings- but eventually gets permission to continue her matchmaking work, while Abe (Tony Shaloub) continues to work for the Village Voice and stumbles across the fact that it's Esther and not Ethan who is the Weissman genius child he'd been expecting. 

Eventually, Midge gets her shot on the Gordon Ford Show-- but Gordon, who is strong-armed into putting her on the show to begin, wants to make it a 'human interest' piece with his 'lady writer' but Midge being Midge, hijacks the final four minutes of the segment and brings the house down with a sensational stand-up set. Gordon invites her over the couch, promises his viewers that they'll be seeing a lot more of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and then leans over and whispers to her that she's fired.

The new thing with the final season is the flash-forwards-- so the viewer gets to know that Midge does make it and then some- in fact, she finds sustained and lasting success and makes it big indeed. But she also has a rocky relationship with her children. (Esther doesn't understand her, Ethan moved to Israel works on a kibbutz and is studying to be a rabbi.) Joel who catches on to Susie's mob connections eventually goes to jail over it. She has a break with Susie over Joel going to prison over her mob ties and gambling debts-- but eventually, the two reconcile although Midge lives alone in a beautiful apartment, she calls Susie at the very end of the final episode and the two of them watch taped copies of Jeopardy together and reminisce about old times.

Overall: I cannot think of many shows that managed to tie everything back together, close all their loopholes and end so perfectly. No notes and, as they say in the show, tits were definitely up for the final season, My Grade: ***** out of ****

Succession also came to a close with its fourth season over on HBO Max or as it's now annoyingly being called MAX. I have complicated feelings about this show. I know escapism is an underlying reason for any viewer to watch any given show but whether it's through my own viewing choices or just a general trend in the air, I seem to have gotten stuck these past few years on a run of shows that inevitably boil down to 'rich people problems.'  I got increasingly bored with Suits (the early seasons were good) because it inevitably boiled down to Rich Lawyer Problems. Despite Damian Lews and Paul Giamatti both being incredible actors Billions eventually boiled down to Rich People's Problems. So, that brings us to Succession.

The show starts out with an ailing media mogul, Logan Roy (Brian Cox) having a stroke. When his health remains fragile at first, it touches off a battle royale between his children about who could potentially succeed him and take control of their billion-dollar empire.  You've got Kendall (Jeremy Strong), the oldest child from Logan's second marriage, who is desperate to prove his worth to his Dad after bungling major deals and struggling with substance abuse. You've got Roman (Kieran Culkin) who bore the brunt of his father's abuse as a child and is immature and doesn't take his responsibilities seriously-- he also sends a curious amount of dick-pics to people throughout the series and the first time we see him, he's jerking off onto a window in his office. Daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) doesn't begin the series in the company fold- she's a left-wing political fixer who is married to Tom Wambsgans (Matthew Macfadyen) but eventually, she comes back into the fold to join the struggle for control of the family company. The siblings also have a half-brother, Connor (Alan Ruck) from Logan's second marriage and a cousin, Greg (Nicholas Braun) that float around as well.

I'll be honest: most of the people are pretty awful in their own ways. In fact, I don't think you could say that there's one genuinely good character in this series-- with the possible exception of Connor, maybe Logan's brother Euan (James Cromwell), or quite possibly the main sibling trio's mother Caroline (Harriet Walter.) But in general, in the first three seasons, the power struggle between the siblings is mixed in with corporate maneuverings and backstabbings which culminates in Tom selling out his wife Shiv and the siblings who get cut out by Logan who agrees to sell to Mattson, the Swedish tech mogul who owns streaming giant GoJo who wants to buy Waystar outright.

Where Succession avoids falling into the 'Rich People Problems' trap is in the 4th Season- where initially we see the siblings ready to take on their Dad and take the company for themselves, but then- early in the season and quite unexpectedly, their Dad dies.

I cannot underscore what a brilliant creative choice this was. I mean, it makes sense-- if your show is called Succession it would follow that you would want to see a succession occur at some point-- but if you're in the final season, you've created all these characters and you see their flaws, their problems, their ugliness and then you do the thing that they've all secretly wondered about in their heart of hearts and the results are incredible. It breaks these characters wide open- but it also their humanity as well. At Logan's funeral, Caroline grabs his latest girlfriend, Kerry, and sits her together with his third wife, Marcia, and another former fling of his. Uncle Euen (James Cromwell) gives a searingly powerful eulogy that lays bare the truth about Logan and his background. 

When the siblings meet and finally make a decision as to who should take the lead in blocking the sale of Waystar, (they anoint Kendall) it's a moment of genuine bonding between all of them and then when it comes down to a final vote, there's one final twist that underscores how genuinely messed up they all are and their whole situation is, even if it's also brutally honest at the same time.  Do they get a happy ending? I don't know. But I think these characters get what they deserve and I think that's the perfect epitaph for this show.

Overall: I saw someone bemoaning the fact that people wanted a follow-up movie or something and I couldn't agree with that sentiment more. Sometimes, things just end. Don't touch this show. Don't do a spinoff. Don't do anything with it. It's perfect just the way it is and manages to redeem its characters by being unfailingly honest about who they all are. Excellent cast, amazing writing and I don't know if it avoids the 'Rich People Problems' trap, because, at the end of the day, it's not like any of these people are losing anything much, monetarily speaking- but it does lay bare the decadence and amorality of it all. My Grade: **** out of ****


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