I’m on record as saying that there’s something lacking in Amazon’s original television offerings. Production quality is high, and the shows are often very, very good (American Gods, Bosch), but I generally don’t feel the warmth and affection for them that I experience with my favourite shows, so they don’t have the unmissable quality that you get with, say, Game of Thrones, or Westworld, or The Good Place. Netflix’s Originals suffer from some of the same malaise.
It’s intangible and possible all in my mind, but it’s something that fascinates me. Take, for example, The Man in the High Castle. It’s a brilliant adaptation of the Philip K Dick source material, and the production design, costume, casting, and so on, were all state of the art. And it was a high concept show, which I love, and told (in the first season at least) a compelling story. It looked fabulous. And yet, I didn’t care about it. I watched it, but I didn’t feel like binging it, and (by season 2) it ended up feeling like going through the motions. A kind of, oh, all right, I’ll watch your stupid show, but don’t expect me to enjoy it.
To be fair to Amazon, I’ve felt this same indifference with offerings on other platforms and networks. I watched and admired Mad Men, but didn’t love it. I was talking with my daughter about it the other day, and I said, in the end, I’m more interested in the history-of-advertising stuff than anything else, and I don’t like or care about any of the characters. I felt the same way about The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. These are all shows with fanatical followings, and any number of people who’ll argue that they’re the Best Show Ever Made.
I’ve got a sentimental streak a mile wide, and I generally have to be rooting for someone. It’s a character flaw, I’m sure.
All of which brings me to The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, which I binged over two nights after signing up again for Amazon Prime following the release, finally, of their pretty shoddy AppleTV app. As an app, it’s the most grudgingly produced fuck-you to AppleTV users you can imagine. It follows none of the Apple interface guidelines and doesn’t even use the sound effects that help you know you’re navigating around. It’s a web view, by some accounts, not even a proper app at all.
But that didn’t stop me watching Mrs Maisel, which is a kind of Mad Men of standup comedy from the team behind the Gilmore Girls. It’s a delight of a show, with a host of clever and funny writing, and characters that are a kind of through-the-looking-glass version of those in The Gilmore Girls. The period setting is pristine, and the costume and production design puts you into a kind of hyper-real version of 1950s New York City that pops off the screen like a technicolor Gene Kelly musical.
One of the things I don’t like about Amazon is their tendency to place gratuitous nudity in the pilot episode. This kind of apes the Game of Thrones approach, and signals to the (US) audience that they’re not in Kansas anymore (which is to say, not watching a Network show). So there’s nudity in episode one, which is incongruous and unnecessary. I’m not being a prude. The nudity in Westworld was used to show the dehumanised quality of the robots; in Game of Thrones it stands as a signifier of the gritty realism of the fantasy world in comparison to, say, Lord of the Rings. Here, though? It’s just to make the pilot memorable so it gets upvoted by Prime subscribers… I guess?
It does also have what I think of as the Amazon Look, by which I mean that it’s hard and bright and sharp, with everything looking freshly minted. It might be an effect of the latest 4K production techniques, and I wonder what it would look like on a 4K TV. Such a thing is not on my horizon, however. I don’t particularly like the Amazon Look, it’s part of the general Amazon Problem, but Mrs Maisel is a terrific show, and well worth a look.