My wife and I enjoying the current — and final — season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” I’m sure we’re not alone. The series, which follows the life of a fictional comedian in the late 1950s and early 1960s, has won more than 20 Emmy awards and at one point (2020) was being watched each week by more than 3 million people, according to a service that researches streaming TV shows.
But there are some things that bug me. Namely, the historical anachronisms.
“Mrs. Maisel” seems to do a good job with costumes, sets and cars. But what jolts me out of an episode are attempts to impose 21st Century attitudes and lingo on the Kennedy-era setting.
(Spoiler alerts for Seasons 4 and 5 ahead. You have been warned.)
In one 2022 episode, the lead character, Midge Maisel (played by Rachel Brosnahan), is hired to do the warm-up for a TV game show. When she begins to get more laughs than the host, the host tries to upstage her. The two argue until Midge tells her “You’re full of shit,” and literally drops the microphone.
Telling someone they’re full of shit doesn’t bother me — they were saying that in Shakespeare’s day — but dropping a mic sure does. That’s a product of 1970s and 1980s hip-hop culture. No one in 1960 knew what a “mic drop” was.
In the current season, Midge has been hired as the only female writer on a late-night show hosted by Gordon Ford (Reid Scott). We know the show airs on NBC, because it’s set at 30 Rockefeller Center, and publicity photos from other then-current NBC shows (such as “Hazel”) are hanging in the hallways. Gordon himself seems like a thinly veiled Johnny Carson clone.
We also know the show airs five nights a week, because the writers have to develop a topical monologue every day, and we know that “The Gordon Ford Show” has a rivalry with “The Tonight Show,” also on NBC. (Jack Paar, the host of “Tonight” before Johnny Carson, is mentioned by name.)
So … hold up.
In the world of “Mrs. Maisel,” NBC has two competing late-night shows? How does that possibly work?
Does Gordon Ford air before Jack Paar or after? (In the 1960s, as previously discussed here, “Tonight” ran until 1 a.m., and it seems unlikely that “Gordon Ford” airs at 1 a.m., since one episode of “Mrs. Maisel” celebrates the “Ford” show achieving the highest audience ratings in late night.)
So does “Gordon Ford” run at 10 p.m., like the disastrous “Jay Leno Show” of 2009? It can’t, because we see from the posters on the wall in 30 Rock that NBC has a prime-time lineup in this world.
Maybe “The Gordon Ford Show” is a local show that only airs in the New York City market? But we see the offices of “The Gordon Ford Show” and they’re fabulous — frankly, they owe a lot to the offices of the fictional Sterling Cooper ad agency in “Mad Men,” set during the same time period. Would a local TV station be able to have such elaborate production facilities?
Come to think of it, although other real-life people are characters in the world of “Mrs. Maisel” — like, for example, Lenny Bruce (played by Luke Kirby) — we never actually see Jack Paar or any of his staff (or at least we haven’t yet), which seems unlikely if they’re both sharing offices in 30 Rock.
Also, we know what the late-night TV offices look like in the real-life 30 Rock, because David Letterman, Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Fallon have shown us the late-night TV offices in the real-life 30 Rock. They’re kind of a dump — nothing like what we see on “Mrs. Maisel.”
Just to give myself a reality check, I went back and re-watched a few episodes of “The Larry Sanders Show” — Garry Shandling’s masterful spoof set behind the scenes of a fictional late-night TV show. It feels much more authentic than “Mrs. Maisel,” right down to the dumpy, claustrophobic, dirty offices in which the writers and production staffs work.
Someone once said about “Star Trek” and its spinoffs, “The original ‘Star Trek’ was written by people based on their memories of serving in the military. The follow-ups were written by people based on their memories of watching ‘Star Trek.'” I think “Larry Sanders” was written by people who had spent time around late-night TV, whereas “Mrs. Maisel” is written by people who watched late-night TV.
All of this is kvetching, to be sure, and it’s probably not something that anyone would notice if they weren’t fluent in useless old-time television trivia. I need more roughage in my diet or something. (Don’t get me started on the inaccuracies in “NewsRadio,” whose depiction of work at a radio station made “WKRP in Cincinnati” seem like a documentary.)
But given the care that the creators have obviously taken with smaller details such as the costumes, music and sets, those big anachronisms nag at me.
Basically, I’ve decided to treat “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” like I treated the BBC TV shows “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes.” It’s a fantasy world. It’s not reality. I’m half-expecting that in the last episode of “Mrs. Maisel,” the camera will pull back and we’ll see Tommy Westphall holding a snow globe.
And just be glad I don’t know anything about Boston hospitals in the 1980s, or else I’d be bitching about “St. Elsewhere,” too.
2 thoughts on “‘I start every paper reading the corrections. That’s how you know who the idiots are.’”
Now hold on; I only watched that episode of Mrs. Maisel once, and I didn’t get the impression that Parr was running at the same time as the Carson clone guy. My impression was that the gag was so old, Parr had used it on his show, months/years before.
I could be wrong. I’d appreciate if you put me in Corrections.
Tom: “Corrections”? Who do you think I am, Seth Meyers?
Maybe I need to go back and re-watch the episode. But I got the clear impression that “The Gordon Ford Show” was supposed to be running at the same time as “Tonight” with Jack Paar, both on NBC.
Unless — OK, going with your theory. Let’s say it’s an alternate reality.
Let’s say Jack Paar gave up “Tonight” in 1960 (when he famously walked off the stage) but this time, he didn’t come back three weeks later. Instead, Gordon Ford took over the “Tonight” slot and Johnny Carson doesn’t get the show in 1962. In that reality, Carson and Ed McMahon continued hosting “Who Do You Trust?” on ABC-TV.
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