Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino: ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’

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'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Season 4. Courtesy of Prime Video

This week on The Treatment, Elvis welcomes back the showrunners of Prime Video's “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino to discuss season 4 of the comedy series. The Emmy-winning comedy is currently in production for its fifth and final season. The duo discuss the contrast between night and day in season 4 and talk about reclaiming the glamor of nighttime from the earlier days of film and television. They talk about why this season is all about consequences. And they explain the difference between real friends and show business friends.

The following interview has been abbreviated and edited for clarity. 

KCRW: Welcome to the Treatment. I'm Elvis Mitchell. My guests today are the creative forces behind "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino. There's such a difference between the way you guys depict night versus the way you depict daytime, and that really came to rest in the episode with Lenny Bruce that's kind of a morning after without consummation. Talk about the differences between night, which is a really romantic period and anything seems to happen, and daytime, which seems to be very much about reality.

Amy Sherman-Palladino: Well, but isn't that the way? Doesn't everything get more romantic at night?  The life of a comic is the nightlife. Your cycle is reversed. You go to work when the sun goes down, and then you stay up all night, and then you go to bed when the sun comes up. Especially in a city like New York, it just has an other worldly feel to it. Night is its own reality, and then daytime comes and you see what you look like after the night before where you thought you looked so attractive in the good lighting, and then you have to face all the realities of life, work, and family and kids, and it has a different rhythm to it. 

KCRW: Even going back to "Gilmore Girls," nighttime becomes wistful and anything feels possible. Daytime seems very much about realism and trying to meet obligations. For somebody like Midge who never seems to sleep, she seems to be kind of lost during the daytime in this season.

Sherman-Palladino: I have to say I'm a partial person to nighttime. I enjoy when it gets dark early. Daytime to me is a little too much. And I do think that lovely things happen at night. I think that everything is prettier at night, and everything feels a little more sparkly, and it does just feel a little bit more magic. When you're dealing with something like Stars Hollow, the nighttime would come, and the twinkle lights came on and suddenly the whole town kind of became dusted with pixie dust a little bit. On "Gilmore,"  especially because we never left the lot on Burbank, we just sort of walked in a circle for six years, you needed that sort of two worlds feeling so that everything didn't just kind of mush in together.

Dan Palladino: I'm just wondering, Elvis, if what you're picking up on is if you did a study of the depiction of night in movies and TV going back decades, it started out like night in a Fred Astaire movie was the glamorous or fun time of day, but a lot of times night in movies and television is the dangerous time, and I think a lot of projects lean into that. For us, night is just the more fun part of day, and I think it is for a lot of people. I think it's just the way the business sees nighttime in the way stories are written that under the cover of dark everything turns a little risky, a little shaky, a little more dangerous.

Sherman-Palladino: See for me, daytime does that because daytime is when you've got to face the reality of everything. It's a mirror. Yeah, daytime is horrible. You can read your mail, which is never good. People can get you on the phone because you're supposed to be awake, and [you get] texts from Nancy Pelosi constantly. Nighttime just feels like you can steal away, and nobody knows where you are, what you're doing. I don't know. I like that.

Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel). Courtesy of Prime Video

KCRW: Nighttime really lends itself to an old school--we talked about this last time-- romantic screwball comedy. And people dressing up, like Fred Astaire dressing up to go out for night on the town. This idea of romance, and we really see it in the last scene of the last episode, romance and nighttime, and anything is possible.

Sherman-Palladino: Yeah, nighttime was also a time where things can get quiet, and your brain could get quiet and thoughts that couldn't enter during the day, because there's too many other things that you're thinking about, sort of float in there. It's that thing when you go to bed and suddenly, you have thoughts that didn't occur to you during the day. I go to bed, and that's when I can fix my script because I'm supposed to be sleeping. I've always loved nighttime, and I've always been not that fond of day. I don't know why. I grew up in Southern California. It was always sunny. The sun and I do not get along; that could have something to do with it. In New York daytime is when you can see the smells; you know where they're coming from. At night, you don't know where they're coming from.

Palladino: So for Amy, the “Annie” song "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” was like a tragedy.

Sherman-Palladino: It's such a sad song. Yeah, it's horrible. It's just terrible. 

KCRW: Midge has kind of walked away from her mission a little bit. She's determined she's only going to do a certain kind of thing. It's kind of like she's lost her magic powers a little bit, her ability to make things work has deserted her in this season, hasn't it? 

Sherman-Palladino: Well, I think that awareness has come to her. Midge was somebody that was sort of swept along by life. Her whole life changed, not of her doing. It was her husband that walked out and sort of dropped a bomb, and she found herself on this other path and started discovering an ambition that she didn't know was there. And I think she was just sort of looking at life, in a good way, like an adventure, like what's next? And going from moment to moment. I think that this is the year that she finally realized I can't not be master of my own destiny. And whether or not her path is the right path for her or the wrong path for her, I think it is the first time that she decided to take control of something as opposed to letting life happen to her.

KCRW: This feels like the season where she has to grow up. And that happened in "Gilmore Girls." You were working towards that in "Bunheads." It's the point where the character says, Oh, I can't pretend I'm not an adult anymore. 

Sherman-Palladino: Yeah, I'm hoping to grow up one day, so I just do it through characters, so I don't ever have to face the reality of being an adult. Because I just don't think I'd be very good at it. Actually, I think I would completely fail. 

Look, people grow, and they change and they learn things. And I don't think anyone ever comes to the final end of their evolution. I mean, they do because you die. That is the end of your evolution. But I think that life is a constant, learning, growing, changing experience. And I think after a while, it wouldn't be as fun if somebody didn't say, Oh, let me take a little stock here. And let me see if making a left turn is going to help me out. 

Midge is navigating the world of showbiz. It's a world she was not born into, a world she was not ready for. So it's a new world, and especially the idea of now I've got to figure out how to achieve a goal myself because nobody seems to be able to chart that course for me. I think it's up to me. I think that that's just sort of naturally where you want this character to go. Now whether or not they succeed, they fail, they get derailed, sidetracked, there's a sale at Bergdorf and you have to stop growing for, you know, 20-30 minutes while you buy a dress, that's all part of the journey. But it did feel like after the Apollo and after being on tour, and after her experience with Shy Baldwin, it felt like [she] needed to have [her] eyes a little bit more wide open, going forward.

KCRW: It's not just Midge who is brought up short by reality, it's everybody. It's her father-in-law. It's her ex husband; it's her parents; it's Susie, it's even Sophie. Everybody's running into what it's like when suddenly, you have to deal with the idea that the world that you're trying to will into being isn't happening, which is the province of childhood.

Sherman-Palladino: Isn't that what it is? Dan and I were standing at Heathrow, watching them cancel all the flights to China. And we're like, oh, what's that all about? And then you go home, and suddenly, everything that you knew your whole life was thrown up in the air. And you had to sort of take a moment to figure out what your next move is and who you are going forward. I think that life throws those things at you, and it's how you respond to it that is the drama or the non drama.

Her life was in complete disarray. What do you do? Do you go back to bed? That's what I'd do. I'd just go back to bed, but she chose to not go back to bed. She chose to try and take control and whatever comes with that, she's gonna have to handle.

KCRW: I was just fascinated because everybody's running into walls this season. Even Susie's helpers, her gangster, fairy godfathers, if you will: Whoa, even we can't help you with this one. I just thought it was really interesting that reality is intruding everywhere on the show in this season.

Palladino: Amy's dad's is a comic; her mother is a dancer singer, has been in Broadway shows and had her act. They talked a lot about the mob being around and the good old days of the mob. It was a really, really different time. And yeah, we just thought it would be funny to see those guys come up against an opponent that even they're concerned about.

It all kind of goes back to the pilot that we always talked about, the big bang of Midge getting dumped and going up on that stage and changing her life, changing the lives of everyone around her. We're going to follow through on that in season five because sometimes it takes these exogenous events that sometimes they cause harm, but sometimes they blow up a world, blow up a life and you get some sort of realization from it, and you go off on a path that is maybe better than the one you were on before. So we always kind of keep that in mind. 

KCRW: This season is so much about the way you guys navigate so beautifully playing melodrama with comedy. The moment where Lenny is opening himself up, and again, seeing the future in Midge because she really is the future, and even he sees that he's not the future. That great moment that starts off as almost like a Broadway farce when they walk into Shy's wedding, and then it becomes something else entirely. This season is really giving you a chance to play to all these strengths you have compacted into single scenes.

Sherman-Palladino: We've always felt that the best comedy has a great deal of drama in it. And the best dramas have a great deal of comedy in it. We think that drama does not work without laughs. I can't tell you how many movies or TV shows that I've watched where I'm like a laugh, one laugh, because even in your life, at the worst moment, someone is gonna laugh somewhere; something weird is gonna happen. You don't go through life completely devoid of laughter, and it feels like they are not mutually exclusive, and so we've always really wanted to make sure that there was plenty of both in the work that we do because the drama is going to feed the comedy, and the comedy is going to relieve the tension of the drama, and it's going to make both of them land more. And the great thing about this cast that we have is that they can do both. They can be unbelievably funny and yet break your heart in the next moment and flip from one to the other and are completely real in both. And when you have those sorts of actors at your disposal, to not use that to the full extent of the law would be kind of sad and criminal.

Pictured (L-R) Rachel Brosnahan (Miriam 'Midge' Maisel) and Alex Borstein (Susie Myerson). Photo by Christopher Saunders/Courtesy of Prime Video

KCRW: That scene with Shy, where we're expecting one thing, and she kind of pours her heart out to him, is just an incredible scene. I was thinking, too, about how daylight reflects that morning after Shy has been beaten, and she's on the boat with him. That moment where she's talking to him, and she sees how adrift he is, and she just wants to reach out to him. Talk about the evolution of that scene, if you would.

Sherman-Palladino: When Shy and Midge formed their friendship, part of the reason I think that Shy even let Midge into his inner circle is because she's a woman that never has an agenda. She didn't look at Shy like there was anything for her in it other than to just be friends, to hang out, make him laugh, help him out. I think that there was a brief shining moment where a guy like Shy, who I think is very cynical and very guarded and clearly had to be, saw somebody who didn't really want anything from him, didn't really need anything from him except friendship. And I think that's very rare in his life. And sometimes you can let that in for a brief shining moment. But then the world and circumstances take over, and he shut her back out again. 

I think all she ever wanted to do after what happened in the Apollo was face to face, apologize to him, and her frustration of not being let in again when she thought: but we had this friendship. I don't understand why I can't at least beg your forgiveness or at least let you know how I feel. 

We were saving that moment for some time afterwards because we knew we wanted it to happen, and it just sort of evolved this year where it just seemed perfect at a wedding where he's sort of saying goodbye to any freedom or openness in relationships by getting married and by cutting off his friends and supporters. The last person who didn't need anything from him, confronts him just to say, I'm sorry, and I wish you well. I think it's very sad for her to see what Shy is heading off into.

Palladino: We also wanted to show the scene in season four, Midge understanding that she made a mistake. Comics, as we've seen recently, at the…what's it called? The Oscars? We were depicting a similar thing in the Apollo sequence in season three, that a comic can go out and make mistakes. Midge made a mistake at the Apollo. She just leaned into information that she knew that she shouldn't have leaned into. This is a common thing for comics that they just cross that line, and they don't know because they're always crossing and then going back and then crossing it and going back. 

Sherman-Palladino: Also, I think that people don't understand how truly terrifying stand up comedy is. It is standing up on a stage, and if you fail, it's all about you. You can't blame anybody else. You can't say, oh, the script wasn't good, or my actor dropped his lines, or look at this costume. I mean, it's you. If they reject you, they reject you. It's a very personal thing. And comics have to be gunslingers. A lot of times you're going to go out there and you're going to try and land that laugh no matter what. And if you are a natural comic and stuff comes out of your mouth, half the time something's gonna come out your mouth, and maybe if you had a moment to think about it, it shouldn't have come out of your mouth. But that's just not the way comedy works a lot of the time. And that's what she experienced. 

She was panicked. She was confronted with Moms Mabley and an audience that was completely different from her audience and the need to do well and the need to get that laugh, which is the reason that comics become comics. It was the most overwhelming thing in that moment, and that's what she would have said. She would have said, I was blinded by fear, and I made this horrible mistake, and I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you if I could.

KCRW: That seemed that that was kind of a consequence of something that was Midge watching Lenny, the way he worked, seeing him in that Miami after dark show and how he just opened himself to anything. And in some ways it felt she was trying to absorb who he was and what he did. This season really feels like a whole morning after season, but also, it's a season about consequences and facing up to the repercussions of your actions. 

Palladino: We were also playing at the same time, the hurt that Midge felt by being dumped like that, the anger and the petulance. There's a lot going on there. But this was Midge Maisel learning showbiz friends are not necessarily real friends. And that's just the way it is. That's why you hear all these stars talking about my friend, my friend, my friend, you think: you can't be friends with all these people. The word "friend" is used very loosely in a lot of businesses. But in show business, especially, this is a hardening of the heart for someone like Midge Maisel, who was a much more giving and receiving person before this, even though what Shy did was understandable. Even though what Shy did was he took great offense at something she said that was truly offensive, but she's a comic and she crossed the line, and she didn't realize it until later. So we tried to play into all those kinds of nuances and try to play the human-ness of it, what show business ramifications are. 

Shy was a very complex character. He felt he had to be deep in the closet. And back then when you were in the closet, you really had to be deep in the closet if that was a choice you've made. It was a much more unforgiving world for especially a Black man to be openly gay. So we're playing into a lot of things there. Hopefully it worked. But it was just sort of a hard lesson for Midge where she realized I overstepped. I caused this. I'm also going to harden my heart because true friendships do not come easy in show business.

Sherman-Palladino: Yeah, and in a true friendship, you're going to let that person apologize. Because friends can hurt each other. Lovers can hurt each other. Husbands and wives can hurt each other. And yet, in a real relationship, somebody can say, I am so sorry, boy did I screw that up. Boy,  that was a dumb move, and then you can keep the relationship, but they never had the relationship. So I think she also felt kind of stupid and kind of naive that she walked into this thing thinking they were one thing and clearly they were another. 

She should have known that they were employee and employer. That's what they were, and that also would color what you say about the person. She was treating him like a pal, like the way you might joke around about a friend of yours, as opposed to: no, this is your employer, he's gonna come out here afterwards. You are working for him. Your job is to make him look good. That is why you are here. And I think all of that was balled up into Midge, and all of that went into her spinning herself in the direction she did this season.

KCRW: Again, consequences: her having this valley in her career because she's decided she's only going to be a headliner. She's not going to open for anybody. There are choices that she's made. Her father's walked away: the consequences of walking away from his career in academia and the consequences of her mother walking away from the family fortune. And for Joel, the consequences of leaving the family business behind. This entire season, I just wondered if this was something you guys felt that you wanted to build on because it really feels foundational to every episode. This season really feels about consequence and repercussion.

Sherman-Palladino: I don't know that we sat there and thought that much because we're much more shallow than you're giving us credit for, but how delightful that you picked up all that? We try to take our characters on a journey every season we go into it. And the whole concept from the very beginning was her decision to go into comedy changed everything about everybody, and what is that? And so I think that that was just sort of an organic path that we took.

KCRW: Each season has kind of a thematic, really a joint holding together. And each of these episodes is about having to deal with a consequence of an action. That last season was really kind of the first blush of romance, and then the second season was about her figuring out, oh, this is what it's like to do something that's entirely different, and to have some control of your life when in fact she hadn't before and was okay with that. 

Sherman-Palladino: The one thing we do try to do is figure out: what are we playing with Midge? Because that determines what we do with everybody else. So it was exactly what you said: the first year it was sort of like realizing, oh wait a minute, I have ambition. Oh wait a minute, there's something else out there. And the second season was dipping her toe in that water and toying with that and seeing how that was going to fit into her life and what she was going to commit to it and what that was going to do to everything else. The third season was okay, I'm in it; let's go on tour. Let's see where that journey takes me, and then the fourth season it's the “let's grow up” season. It's the “I got to be an adult now” season, and I got to either make this happen or I'm not sure why I took this path. And the fifth season will be the death of Amy and Dan. We'll just be exhausted and crying. That's the theme of the fifth season.



Rebecca Mooney