Performer of the Week: Rachel Brosnahan

THE PERFORMER | Rachel Brosnahan

THE SHOW | The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

THE EPISODE | “Pilot” (Nov. 29, 2017)

THE PERFORMANCE | Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue is a delicate confection: Without just the right touch, it might collapse like a bad soufflé. Thankfully, she found the perfect leading lady for her new Amazon dramedy in Brosnahan. In Maisel‘s pilot, the young actress not only proved she could rattle off pages of that famous dialogue without breaking a sweat, but she also brought an emotional complexity to 1950s housewife Midge Maisel that instantly made Midge one of Sherman-Palladino’s best creations.

Brosnahan was luminous in the pilot’s early scenes: the very image of the happy homemaker, tirelessly making brisket and doing calisthenics while supporting her struggling-comedian husband Joel. (She’s so charming here, she could’ve starred in an actual 1950s sitcom, a la Donna Reed.) But after Joel walked out on Midge, she drunkenly took to the comedy-club stage to bare her soul, and that’s when Brosnahan truly bloomed. Midge’s stand-up act was brutally honest and ferociously funny, as Brosnahan revealed the foul-mouthed genius lurking beneath Midge’s domestic façade. Put a microphone in front of her, and Brosnahan is a comedy dynamo, with Midge’s radically confessional set blazing a new trail for women in stand-up.

Gilmore Girls fans will naturally want to compare Brosnahan’s Midge to Lauren Graham’s Lorelai Gilmore, and that’s understandable. (They’re a lot alike.) But after Brosnahan’s bold, boisterous work in the pilot, we shouldn’t be calling her character “the next Lorelai Gilmore.” She’s just the first Midge Maisel.

HONORABLE MENTION | Mr. Robot‘s Elliot hit rock bottom this week… and Rami Malek responded with his most searing performance of the season. Elliot blamed himself for the E Corp explosions that killed thousands, and Malek’s voice quaked with guilt when Elliot yelled at his sister Darlene, “I wanted this… I liked it.” He even planned to take his own life, but a chance encounter with the little brother of his late comrade Trenton changed his mind, and Malek flashed a caustic sense of humor as Elliot bantered with the boy about religion and Matt Damon movies. Later, when Elliot reconnected with his catatonic pal Angela, Malek was tender and introspective as they reminisced about their childhood days of playing the “wishing game” together. We’re just wishing for another season of Mr. Robot — so we can go on enjoying Malek’s stellar work.

HONORABLE MENTION | “Crisis on Earth-X” turned into a “Crisis of Kleen-X” as the Arrowverse bid a sorrowful adieu to Legends of Tomorrow’s Martin Stein, in great part due to the very fine work of Victor Garber. Mortally wounded in a skirmish with Nazis, Stein only clung to life because of his bond with Jefferson. But rather than be an “anchor” to his partner in Firestorming, Stein pleaded to “let me die, so that you may live.” Garber was most moving as Stein recounted how Jefferson became a son to him, and as such, “How could a father do anything less?” than make such a sacrifice. For good measure, Garber gave our tear ducts one last squeeze by thanking Jefferson “for the adventure of a lifetime,” before wishing his colleague a long life “full of love, as mine has been.” A super-sad sendoff for a super hero.

HONORABLE MENTION | As The Walking Dead’s Carol appealed to a grief-stricken Ezekiel not to forsake his subjects, Melissa McBride taught a master class in how to make a big impact in a quiet scene. With tears sparkling in the actress’ eyes and a catch in her voice, the heroine first tacitly acknowledged how well she understood the king’s desire to give up. But then, ever so subtly, McBride added a trace of steel to the compassion in her tone as Carol suggested that, if he didn’t feel up to the task at hand, he do what he did best, what she forced herself to do every day: play a part. “We just have to act like everything is normal until it is,” she said as firmly as quietly. In the end, Ezekiel wasn’t swayed. We, however, were so moved that we would have followed McBride into any battle.

Which performance knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!