The Failed Diversity of "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" Season Three

We can't pretend the 1950s were this wholesome.

Stephanie Hsu Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season III

Photo by Ovidiu Hrubaru (Shutterstock)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel continues to deliver the same nostalgia and retro fashion that's earned the show audience acclaim and three Golden Globes.

In season 3, married showrunners Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino (Gilmore Girls) continue their comedic schtick of having characters speedwalk and speedtalk their way through scenes of chaos and slowing down to emphasize the impeccable retro scenery and pastel color palette that defines the show's 1950s wholesomeness. But this season, there is an attempt to address the show's dire lack of diversity (namely the absence of any non-white character) with three new charaters, played by magnetic talents: Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) tours with the celebrated singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain) and his overbearing manager Reggie (Sterling K. Brown), while her ex-husband Joel (Michael Zegen) finds a new love interest Mei (Stephanie Hsu). Ultimately, Mrs. Maisel sticks to its same old formula of clever quips and introspective soliloquies set against gorgeous vintage backdrops, giving the series a predictability that, to some, provides an enjoyable, easy viewing experience, while to others it cripples the show's thematic scope.

So does Mrs. Maisel pass the diversity litmus test? No, not in any meaningful way. The series gets props for including people of color without tokenizing them as helpful best friends or quirky side kicks. Shy Baldwin is a charismatic but temperamental starlet who may or may not be based on a real-life idol of the '50s (Harry Belafonte seems to be the Internet's favorite guess). Sterling K. Brown plays his loyal friend and strict manager who antagonizes Midge and Susie (Alex Borstein) just enough to underscore the season's soft theme that Midge is going to have to get used to a wider, more complex audience beyond Manhattan's Upper West Side.

But that's where the show rings hollow, only touching on and skirting around issues like the Civil Rights Movement and segregation, which would have deeply impacted Midge's national tour with a famous African American singer and his predominantly black band. For instance, we see the tour's flashy performances in three major cities: Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Miami. It's not until Miami that Midge learns that Shy and the band often aren't permitted to stay in the flashy hotels she's staying in, due to the rampant systemic racism of the 1950s. Las Vegas, in particular, was so racially segregated in the '50s and '60s that even renowned black performers who were invited to perform (such as Harry Belafonte) were forced to enter and leave through back doors; simply, Las Vegas was called the "Mississippi of the West" during this era.

But anachronisms aside, the show earns a big win for its introduction of Stephanie Hsu, who plays Mei, the enigmatic young woman who helps Joel establish his night club in Chinatown. Aside from being the first speaking role an Asian actor has had on the series, Mei defies the era's stereotypes of women and the Asian community. After Joel encounters an illegal mahjong gambling parlor nearby, Mei introduces herself with the same fast-talking cleverness and self-assured air that define Joel's ideal "type" of woman, as his friend Archie tells him.

Most notably, 29-year-old Hsu is very aware of the (albeit small) step forward her character makes toward uplifting Asian American representation on American TV. The daughter of Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants, Hsu pursued acting (to her family's trepidation) and graduated from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts the same year as Brosnahan. Trained in experimental theater, Hsu was painfully aware of how few opportunities are given to Asian actors in the entertainment industry. As little as 1% of Hollywood's leadings roles go to Asian actors, while on Broadway, Asian-Americans only occupy 4% of roles. But Mei isn't just a rare opportunity for today's Asian performers; she's also a standout woman of the time period. "With Mei, to be a female in Chinatown and a medical student [in the 1960s] is one of the most badass things that a woman could possibly do," Hsu said. "It's not a stereotype at all, it's completely pushing the boundary of what was possible [at the time]. It was like a character I had never, ever seen or heard of on TV and, certainly, could have never even imagined."

Hsu uses her fluent Mandarin language skills to underscore many of Mei's cutting punchlines about Joel's ignorance about Chinatown. As one of New York's oldest and most insular communities, she's a conduit that "shines a beautiful light on this very integral part of New York culture that isn't often spoken about," according to Hsu. She adds, "I feel very honored to get to play [her]." She also told Teen Vogue, "I feel a certain type of obligation to be making more space for younger versions of me."

So while some critique, "It's good to see the show attempt diversity. But if all they're going to do is make jokes about gambling and Asian stereotypes, it's not helpful," that view loses sight of the overall context of the show. In episode six, the show forces Midge and Joel to hear from people of color exactly how the world works differently for them. When Joel pridefully confronts Mei about secretly helping him with his nightclub, she says, "Hey, John Wayne! If you haven't noticed, this is a very insular neighborhood. You can't get anything done if you don't have 'cousins'...Chinese 'cousins'...You don't know the language." She leaves while telling Joel off in Mandarin. Meanwhile, Midge is helping Shy recover from a very difficult night. While they're huddled in the dark together, Midge speedily offers ways she could improve his situation, including bringing him back to her hotel room. He gives her a sardonic, all-too-knowing look, "I can't go to your hotel. This is Florida; we don't stay in your hotels."

It's as if both moments, through language barriers and tense moments of silence, capture the show's dissonance between the wholesome retro-nostalgia The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel blindly offers viewers and the fraught social reality that it disregards.


These are trying times, both in real life and in The Handmaid's Tale's dystopian world of Gilead.

With the latter's rape under the guise of religion, the criminalization of women's health practices, and the attack on women's and minorities' rights, the line between reality and fiction is blurring. Season 3 of Hulu's Elizabeth Moss-led adaptation remains a gripping, terrifying view of an all-too-real possibility for America's future.

One of the most fascinating characters remains the former conservative activist Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), whose relationship with Moss's June Osborne (a.k.a Ofjoseph #2) remains fluid, as shifting alliances—and a baby —have shaken June's world. At the end of last season, Serena handed baby Nichole over to June, fully acknowledging that June would escape Gilead with the baby to give her a better life in Canada, free from oppression. Serena's difficult choice hinted that she had defected, at least partly, from Gilead's sexist, totalitarian regime. But as new episodes indicate, Serena seems to be driven by a love she'll never have and possibly never understand—the love of a child.

Over the past three years, Serena has been a walking contradiction. She's stern and sour on the outside, staunchly following Gilead's beliefs and willfully following her husband's leadership, both politically and in their household. Yet, Serena has shown that she's capable of compassion through her willingness to do favors for June, her sharing of information about June's older daughter, Hannah, and her empathetic, emotional decision to help June escape with the baby. It's as if a new Serena has replaced the stone-cold, heartless woman from earlier episodes.

But is it possible for Serena to escape her religious past, and if so, does she deserve redemption? After all, she's partly responsible for the creation of Gilead in the first place. Her religious views took center stage on her pre-Gilead college lecture tour, whereby she instructed women to do their duty and pro-create to help counter the plummeting birth rate. She wrote a book entitled A Woman's Place, which contained the notorious line, "Never mistake a woman's meekness for weakness." Women, according to Gilead's founding principles, should know their place and humbly fall in line. A feminist, she is not.

However, after the takeover, Serena was completely shut out of the new government planning. The neo-society won't let women "forget their real purpose," thereby using theological beliefs and societal circumstances to enslave women—even ones like Serena, who are lucky enough to find themselves married to powerful men and, due to their infertility, be free from Gilead's sexual abuse and trafficking. Even scarier, she seems acquiescent in her new role.

But it's her complicity in Gilead's kidnapping, murder, and rape that makes Serena's compassion so perplexing. She places her beliefs over other women's human rights and can't or won't see the injustices her classism fuels. She, along with many others in Gilead, puts "the greater good" over the sexual traumas inflicted upon handmaids day in and day out. And that's not to mention Gilead's horrifying clitoridectomies, eye-gouges, and other mutilations it uses to keep the handmaids in line. Yet to Serena, these are normal. Gilead is normal. Praise be.


As season 3 has shown thus far, Serena is backpedaling on her decision to let baby Nichole go. Her husband, Commander Fred, plans on negotiating with Canada for the baby's surrender, despite Serena knowing deep down that a life in Gilead could have dangerous stakes for Nichole. Serena is putting her own yearning for love and motherhood over the well-being of an innocent child. If Serena can't—or won't—put the baby's life over her own neediness, she'll continue being unfit for parenthood. Just because we want something doesn't mean we deserve it.

But Serena's deeply layered emotional blueprint makes her strangely compelling. She's completely unpredictable, warm one minute and icy the next. She's religious and poised, but simultaneously callous and evil to June. Her desperation makes her selfish, the antithesis of most religious teachings. The paradoxes are both absurd and never-ending.

Though Serena can be maddening, Strahovsky delivers a spellbinding performance. The actress is able to pull sympathy from the audience, despite her character's growing list of flaws. There's a power struggle inside of Serena as she comes to terms with her fluctuating role as a socialite-wife and her loss of status to the men around her. Strahovsky leans into Serena's villainous traits and stone-cold demeanor, but can turn heel and melt when it comes to Nichole's or June's plights. Some may not tolerate Serena's softer side in light of her past evil-doings, but that's what makes her such a polarizing yet powerful character. Strahovsky delivers a multi-faceted Emmy-worthy performance that we can hope eventually earns her the award (she was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series last year but lost to Westworld's Thandie Newton).

The Handmaid's Tale's dystopian future might not be that "dystopian" after all; it could be a portent for what lies ahead, thanks to the connivance of people like Serena Waterford. Though she hides behind her religion, using it as a beacon to guide her, she's nowhere near moral. She idly stands by, devoid of voice, as women are abused, tortured, impregnated, and then ripped from their offspring. But when faced with the opportunity to get something she's only dreamt of, only then does she begin to act differently. Is she deserving of forgiveness? We'll have to see how the series shakes out. For now, she remains an unfeeling religious zealot weaponizing her faith to oppress others.

Stranger Things Season 3 Trailer: Eleven Fights Back

Instead of locking the monster out, it seems that Eleven trapped it in Hawkins.

In the latest trailer for the third season of Stranger Things, things seem to be more chaotic than ever in Hawkins.

The series seems to be continuing to do what it does best—taking nostalgic, neon-lit images of 1980s suburbia and throwing them under the threat of destruction from a mysterious, otherworldly force. The trailer, however, is almost excessively dramatic. A string-heavy score plays while warehouses and fairgrounds meet impending doom and our favorite gang of bicycle-riding misfits continue to fight the dark forces at work. Other highlights: Max's older brother seemingly gets possessed, Eleven is her typically badass self, Winona Ryder brandishes a knife, and swarms of helicopters hint at a potentially violent and certainly action-packed end.

Stranger Things returns July 4th.