The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel… and Authentic Leadership

I hate to admit it somehow, but I’m officially obsessed with a TV show. I recently flirted with the concept of obsession in a writing class I took late last year with the fabulous Steve Almond, who claims that most good writing - fiction and non-fiction - arises from a writer’s obsessions. And though I’m not one who is commonly prone to hyperbole, I can honestly say that since starting to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a scant month ago, I have become officially obsessed. Because I’m digesting two seasons at once I can watch multiple episodes at one sitting (and have done so more than once), which keeps the cast and plotline top of mind. And apparently this show’s appeal is universal - men and women, Jews and non, young folks and older ones, east and west coast dwellers - literally everyone seems to love this show.

At this point…

1. If you’re a Mrs. Maisel Devotee, please read on.

2. If you’re not, but may be interested in joining the fan club, please read on.

3. If you have not heard of it, or have but have taken a pass on it, feel free to move on to other stuff (or read on - my hope is that you’ll find something of interest, but if not, that’s ok too).

So what’s so great about The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?

The obvious:

• The writing: smart, funny, thoughtful

• The actors: Tony Shaloub, Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein (Emmy winners all!)

• The clothing and sets: rich, colorful, beyond stylish and sexy.

But why am I writing about it?

Here’s why: simply put, it’s Mrs. Maisel herself. She’s our protagonist - the formidable, ahead-of-her-time (ex-) wife, mother and blossoming comic act. As I’ve gotten to know her over the two (much too short) seasons, I’ve been struck by how greatly she embodies the best of what I consider to be a successful, emotionally intelligent, authentic leader.

How so, you ask?

1. She knows herself (and her purpose). Once she steps on the stage, she knows this is where she belongs. And in the face of some serious obstacles- not least of which is what’s ok (and not ok) for women to do and say in the late 1950’s in America - she’s crystal clear about what she needs and wants to do. AND she’s courageous enough to do it. AND, at least on stage, there’s no armor - with authenticity and vulnerability, she can’t not tell the truth.

2. She plays well with others. Kind, competent, honest and generously helpful, she moves fluidly between her upper west side family and friends, her perky but needy B. Altman cosmetic colleagues, her Queens - born and barely bred manager Susy, and the downtown club culture of her audiences. And she manages to truly belong within each relationship and group, not simply fit in.

3. She’s confident but humble. Even in her first standup acts, she knows she’s better than good - and what she says matters. She also knows she has much to learn, and is unafraid of doing the hard work: studying classic comedy acts, researching her own bits, going on the “not so glamorous” road - it’s the dues she (mostly) happily pays to get better.

4. She’s competitive. At her Catskills summer hangout, Midge is deeply invested slaying at the swimsuit contest and Simon Says - and when relegated to the coat check at her B. Altman job, she works her way back to the cosmetics counter (where she belongs). And, instead of taking the expected back seat to her male comedy counterparts, she delights at besting them, even making them the butt of her jokes.

5. She’s formidable. Pushing against convention, refusing the safe, prescribed route, taking on disapproving parents and a society who wants over and over to put her in her place - being courageous - she sticks to her path despite it all.

While it’s not always the case that art imitates life (or that TV characters reflect the qualities of great leadership), in this case I can’t help but see the connections. And I, for one, will be watching for more parallels when Midge and her gang re-emerge for Season 3. Will you?