That first episode is also full of the characters and guest appearances defining the series. Luke Kirby reprise his role as Lenny Bruce, the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino unable to go a season without him. Hot off her Oscar nomination, Stephanie Hsu plays Mei, proving that if Joel (Michael Zegen) is good at nothing else, he knows how to pick them. As always, Midge’s parents Rose (Marin Hinkle) and Abe (Tony Shalhoub), come close to stealing the show before giving the screen to their younger counterparts. And Alex Borstein as Susie Myerson is a delightful mix of rough edges and vulnerability.
Although the show never abandons its twee style, it thankfully stops being the focus. As Midge and company settle into their lives in apartments, offices, and comedy clubs, there’s less design to show off and more of the quotidian, if “Mad Men”-esque, workplace aesthetic.
This fifth season shows Midge struggling, which is something we haven’t seen before. Not because she is too pretty, intelligent, funny, or brave like in seasons past. But because she is trying to do something hard, something that may finally test the limits of her ability: work in television.
Susie gets a job in the writer’s room of the top-rated late-night show, a fictional “Gordon Ford Show,” filmed at NBC’s 30 Rock. Like Peggy before, Midge is the only woman in that particular role and is regularly referred to as the show’s “lady writer.” Still doing standup at night, Midge jokes about how offended she is that none of the men hit on her—until one does, which complicates her job. She befriends the secretaries and leaps at professional opportunities (spectacularly squandering one at sea) but truly struggles to shine in a business and institution that will not simply bend to her charm.