If it hadn’t been for the global pandemic, the fourth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel would likely have arrived in radically different form: As in previous seasons, Midge and the Maisel intimates would have ventured around the country, might have toe-dipped into ever-broader showbiz platforms. As always, the sky was the limit. But as COVID-19 made its presence known, married co-creators/showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino found themselves reconfiguring their plans to meet the moment. The resulting season — thanks in large part to their longtime practice of letting story, character and actor strengths lead them — garnered 12 Emmy nominations.
The season saw Midge’s successes and struggles pushing her stand-up comedy career forward. The supporting players — father Abe, manager Susie and ex-husband Joel — found their own lives mirroring Midge’s transitional moment after predictable paths were upended by her decision to pursue her unconventional ambitions. The showrunner pair joined THR to dig into the daunting challenges of presenting a lavishly appointed midcentury period during a global pandemic and the unanticipated rewards of the Amazon Prime comedy’s fourth season.
What was front and center for the direction of the season as a whole? And what were the fun changes of plan that happened along the way?
AMY SHERMAN-PALLADINO The changes and swerving were not really fun, because we actually had a whole different season planned out, and then COVID killed us, so we had to quickly regroup and figure out how to do this show and not make it feel like, “Oh, it’s a COVID show. They’re all in separate elevators, on boxes talking on cellphones.” We were going to travel, and it forced us to refocus the show back on New York. The benefit of that turned out to be that we didn’t have our family split apart as much. It was really a lot more of them being in each other’s faces. Also, being able to just be out on the streets of New York. We got to go to Carnegie Hall, for God’s sake, which never would’ve happened if we weren’t in this remarkable situation. In the end, it turned out to be a great thing because our people were forced to be with each other more. That caused a lot of good conflict, story, tears, laughs, seltzer down your pants, all your basics.
Was there something especially gratifying in creating this season that you couldn’t get enough of because you were having so much giddy fun doing it?
DAN PALLADINO The TV world is kind of contracting down to [how] everyone expects things to go three seasons now, and that’s a run — or even two seasons, and that’s a run. We’re really proud of the fact that we’ve taken the show into the fourth season and still garnered quite a few Emmy nominations. Our staff and crew, who have been with us almost to a person since the pilot, are still really, really motivated. The lucky finds, like the Ferris wheel: We did not write toward the Coney Island Ferris wheel thing, we actually broke the whole story, and we were a little shruggy about the venue in which Midge comes back and tells the family what happened with Shy Baldwin. We just thought, “How can we really beef this up to make it extremely entertaining and also, at the same time, extremely challenging?” And that was the Coney Island Ferris wheel sequence, and then everything in that story just came together quickly. That kind of happy accident is what really keeps us going and motivated.
SHERMAN-PALLADINO It’s sort of our lost New York year, I would say, where we actually got to show a lot more of this town that’s actually very important to this show.
The show’s selection of music and needle drops has always been sublime. Tell me about the experience of putting together your Emmy-nominated song, “Maybe Monica.”
SHERMAN-PALLADINO Music has always been huge for us, and every year we’ve branched deeper and deeper into it. Dan and I have always felt like music is a character and we don’t use it unless it means or says something to the plot. We’re not big ones for, like, “Get a song and just throw it in the background,” because it doesn’t mean anything, because it doesn’t add an energy or a feeling or a vibe. Because we lucked into this amazing musical group, Tom [Mizer] and Curtis [Moore], who write our original songs for us, we know that anytime we want to go to that well, anything we want to do, we can pull off. Having the access to this beautiful theater — our production designer built us our Wolford Theater. It was COVID and we couldn’t go into a lot of places, so we built our own theater. You’ve got to put some music in the theater, and you’ve got to figure out what that vibe and what that sound is. It’s fun to find the needle drop. One of our favorite moments is when we sit in editing, when we’re doing our final pass-through, and for any song that we haven’t already written into the script, we just sit there with, yes, iPods — sorry, folks; kids, ask your parents — and we just go through music as we’re editing. It’s actually a really important part of the process. One of the most entertaining parts of the process is sitting there in that editing room, finding those songs.
Was there anything about what you accomplished in season four that has emboldened you for what lies ahead?
SHERMAN-PALLADINO We’re deep into season five right now. We brought our A-game into season five. We have a cast that we know is the kind of gift that you don’t get a lot and will probably never happen again in this configuration. The stories and the scripts have got to honor the people that are showing up and giving 100 percent every single day. Dan and I always bring that emotional nausea and deep stress and mental turbulence into every season, because we don’t want to send something to our table that isn’t good enough for Rachel Brosnahan, or good enough for Tony [Shalhoub], Alex [Borstein], Marin [Hinkle] or Michael [Zegen]. I don’t know if it’s ambition or just neurosis or lack of time for therapy, but it’s the kind of thing that we just automatically bring to each season. We feel really good about how [season four] turned out. It felt harrowing in the moment, but looking back, it did everything we wanted it to do and then some.
Interview edited for length and clarity.