The Marvelous Mrs. Anachronism

January 29, 2018
Posted by Jay Livingston
“The authenticity of the [ancient parchment] scrolls is currently in great doubt, particularly since the word Oldsmobile appears several times in the text.”*
Most language anachronisms are harder to spot than Oldsmobile. But why?

“Mad Men” begins in 1960, but the ad men and women use terms that didn’t enter the language till much later: niche marketing, iconic, enough on her plate, how’d that work out for you, key demographic, bi-coastal, and many others. (“Mad Men posts are here and here.)

And now we have “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, set in roughly the same time and place as “Mad Men,” New York City 1958, though the social geography is slightly different – downtown comedy clubs and Upper West Side Jews rather than Madison Avenue and WASPs. The trailer for Season One summarizes the concept and setting.


From the opening shot with Checker cabs through to the final frame, everything is visually perfect for 1958 – clothes, interiors. But then (at 1:42) Midge says, “This comedy thing – it has to work.” But that construction – “this _____ thing” with any noun in the blank – was all but unknown before the mid-sixties, and it didn’t become widely used until the 1980s.



Many other people have noticed the language anachronisms on this show. A twentysomething I know caught “touch base with.” My own list includes: reach out to, alternate universe, scam, low bar, talking trash, I’m fine with, out of the loop, perp walk, kick [some big-time comedy] ass, she has been killing it, wackadoodle, crunching the numbers.

At first I thought that the writer/creators just didn’t care. But on a recent interview on KCRW’s “The Business,” they said this.



Here’s a slightly edited transcript


Q: Do you ever do the research and say, “Would a woman in the 50s do this?”

A: We have this delightful researcher who has like twelve masters degrees in everything in the world, and all she gets is like “Did they say *** back in nineteen-fif . . You [Palladino] had a couple where I was like that just feels too modern.

We don’t want to get caught out with that stuff ’cause everyone around us is so good – our production designer, our costumes, our props . .  And the last thing I want to do, when everyone is making sure that the piping on the wall and the colors are all correct, is that we’re the ones that come in and throw in a bunch of dialogue that’s not appropriate.

If they’re so good about the props and costumes, how can they throw in a bunch of dialogue that has so many anachronisms? Part of the answer, I think, is that our dominant sense is sight. We are much more likely to notice an object that doesn’t look right than a word that doesn’t sound right. Second, these things are the object of deliberate thought. We consciously choose our cars and clothes and colors. We also know that someone has consciously designed them and that the designers are deliberately trying to make them new and different. Not so our words. Nobody is advertising “wheelhouse” or “drill down” as the must-have word for this year. All the influencing and being influenced occurs out of our awareness. As a result, our language seems “natural” – unplanned and spontaneous rather than arbitrary. So we assume that this must be the way people always speak and have always spoken. 

That’s especially true for people who were not around during the historical period in question. If you weren’t watching club performers in 1958, you might just assume that the emcee then, as now, would say, “Let’s give it up for. . .” And if you weren’t familiar with stand-up comedy from that period, you might assume that comics then would ask, as Mrs. Maisel does, “What’s up with that?”

In fact, her whole style of stand-up is an anachronism, but that’s a matter for another blog post. The writers are familiar with the new comedy of  the late 50s – Bob Newhart, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Redd Foxx, and others. And there’s a reference to Nichols and May that includes a glaring anachronism. When a male comic offers to work with Midge as a duo, her manager Susie advises against it.

SUSIE: He wants to fuck you.

MIDGE:  He wants me to work with him. He says we’ll be like Nichols and May. Nichols and May don’t fuck.

SUSIE Nichols and May totally fuck.

Nichols and May did in fact have a brief romantic involvement. But in 1958, nobody “totally” fucked. Nobody “totally” did anything.


[A few months after I posted this, I had second thoughts about language anachronisms in contemporary TV shows. That post is here.]

[Update, Feb. 3, 2019. Some commenters have mentioned the profanity. In a more recent post (here), I suggested that what was anachronistic was not the amount of profanity but the specific words. Sixty years ago, the intensifier of choice among White middle-class New Yorkers would have been goddam, not fucking.]

--------------------------------

* From Woody Allen’s essay about six parchment scrolls discovered by a wandering shepherd in cave near the Gulf of Aqaba.

145 comments:

Thomas said...

Found your blog just because I was troubled by the script’s anachronisms. I noticed “perp walk” and “give it up for” that you mentioned, and another that you didn’t — “rock star” used to describe Ricky Nelson. 1958? Come on!

Jay Livingston said...

Right. Rock stars did not exist before the mid-sixties at the earliest. There were other terms I had my doubts about but didn't include. And Reddit has a discussion about "I'm like" followed by a clause (“So I'm like what's going on here”) to use a made-up example)which I'm sure didn't exist till much later.

But now I have another thought, which I may blog briefly about. If the characters did use the terms that were hip in the 1950s but then went out of style, we would feel more distant from them as people. (I can picture Susie saying to Midge next season, “A comedian has to be relatable,” as you and I wince.) The clothes and props are part of the external world, but the language is part of the person.

maria erin said...

In her opening wedding speech she said “Who does that?” which felt very modern!

Jay Livingston said...

I agree, like totally. One of the reasons that the writers and script-checker didn't catch this is that, like some of the other anachronisms, it's a very simple phrase made up of very ordinary words. How could it be a recent creation?

Thanks for writing . . and reading.

Unknown said...

The idiomatic anachronisms grated on my ear, but it made me nuts that they showed Joel coming in from work while Ed Sullivan was on the televsion. Ed Sullivan was aired on Sunday nights. It also irritated me that they did not seem to know the difference between Pyrex glass bakeware and Corningware ceramic bakeware.

Jay Livingston said...

I didn't catch either of those. I guess they wanted something that would be emblematic of the time, hence Ed Sullivan.

Unknown said...

In the courtroom the description of a guy who looks "kind of rapey". "Really?" in that whiny, uptalk way. nerd alert, take a meeting, is that a thing?, I don't hear this many modern idioms in my day to day life. It's like they are trying to fit as many in as possible!

Jay Livingston said...

The really interesting thing is that neither the experienced writers, who presumably have a good ear for dialogue, nor the person they have on staff to check these things notices. It's not that they don't care (unless Palladino in this interview is lying). Oh well, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

Anonymous said...

The first series is in 1958, Midge refers to “pantyhose” which were not on the shelves unti 1959, and they were called panti legs.

RIchard said...

I'm glad to see, among all the rave reviews for Mrs. Maisel, that some find the anachronisms irritating. Being in my 60s, I may be more sensitive to the genuineness of the language. I guess younger people wouldn't notice or care as much. Jay, you mentioned how they got the props right while letting the language go. Last night my wife noticed Midge and Susie were dipping their french fries into a McDonald's-like plastic cup. On the whole, I think the anachronisms dilute the potency of the comedy.

Claire Caterer said...

Also, I’ve noticed “I’ve/you’ve got this” (Midge is mocking Dr. Spock’s idea that a mother “knows more than she thinks she knows.”) She says, “That’s his advice? ‘You got this’?” I know that one has only been around the last ten years at most. And another one that struck me: A jazz musician recounts how he was arrested for spitting; “Spitting while black,” Lenny Bruce clarifies. “—ing while black” is very recent also, beginning with DWB (driving while black) in the 1990s. The word “nerd” dates back to 1951, but “nerd alert” does sound a bit modern. I don’t much care if something is 1960s vs. 1950s, but once you’re getting modern enough for me to remember it, it is jarring.

Jay Livingston said...

In 1958, it wouldn't even have been "while Black." It would have been "while Negro." Well, maybe Lenny Bruce would have said "Black." More likely "spade," which was hip then. (Hip lingo changes so quickly. As Dave Frishberg says/sings in "I'm Hip," "When it was hip to be hep, I was hep.")

I saw in WestSideRag that the show was going to be filming yesterday about ten blocks from where I live. I was tempted to go up there with a big "No Linguistic Anachronisms" protest sign and march back and forth on the sidewalk.

GrammyK said...

Nerd alert was used in the first party scene. Since this was the time period I grew up, this show drives me crazy with anachronisms of speech.

Anonymous said...

There are elements of this show I like, but the anachronisms are driving me to distraction. Not only the verbal ones, like those already mentioned and "It is what it is," but also the situational ones. In one episode her son is watching Howdy Doody after supper. The show appeared only on Saturday mornings. In the same episode, set in 1958, she talks about "two for one pantyhose," but that were not invented for another year. This is just sloppy writing. Hire someone that was alive at the time as a consultant.

Jay Livingston said...

The Wikipedia entry for "Howdy Doody" says, "Originally an hour on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (at 5 p.m. Eastern), the show moved to Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 6 p.m. EST in September 1948."

On Wednesday, the show will be filming just a few blocks from where I live. I'm tempted to go up there and tell them they need a better anachronism-checker.

Anonymous said...

Several observes have noted that "pantyhose"is referenced when it simply wasn't around in 1958. Along the same lines, you can see many of the women in skirts or dresses are bare-legged, a big no-no in 1958. A sharp automotive enthusiast will also spot cars in this series that are newer than '58.

Jay Livingston said...

The other thing that goes with the hosiery is a girdle. It's possible that a woman as thin as Mrs. M wouldn't wear one, but many (most?) women did.

ElliotNC said...

I am watching this series on Amazon Prime, so I didn't catch the episodes in real time. (Of course, they didn't have that luxury in Mrs. Maisel's time, hence the Ed Sullivan and Howdy Doody slip-ups).


What caught my attention was a reference to ordering General Tso's Chicken at Ruby Foo's. General Tso's Chicken made its first appearance in NY in the early 1970's and was quickly adulterated in a myriad of ways. This is a dish that had an actual creator and is not something from a traditional Chinese cookbook.

Jay Livingston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jay Livingston said...

Chinese food in New York in the 50s and early 60s was nearly all Cantonese. Shun Lee, which claims to have invented General Tso's chicken, didn't open till 1971. In 1958, UWS Jews would have been more likely to go for steak kew or chicken chow mein at Ruby Foo's. In her day, Madame Foo was probably the number one Chinese restaurateur-entrepreneur in North America, but that day is long past. Good-bye Ruby Foo's day.

Unknown said...

When Joel goes to Abe's office to tell him of his new job and income, he sets doen a Samsonite black attache case with a metal frame. Those did not exist until the late 60's or early 70's. In 1958 Joel would have probably carried a leather breifcase or at best a leather-bound attache case. A jarring visual anachronism to an otherwise perfect set. And yes, the verbal anachronisms are very annoying. Such a shame, because this is an excellent show and deserves authentic dialogue.

SkyRiter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SkyRiter said...

Thanks very much for this insightful post. I just binge-watched all eight episodes of Season One this week and overall I enjoyed it very much. But after the first episode I started taking notes, and by the final episode I had filled three Post-it notes with anachronisms. Many have been discussed here: General Tso's chicken; perp walked; wackadoodle; nerd alert; rapey; big boy pants; spitting while black. I also questioned many other phrases, including "gender-specific" in reference to children's goody bags--used twice! But I have to disagree by noting the automotive anachronisms are rampant throughout this show, starting with that very first scene referenced above. In fact, neither of the two Checker cabs used in virtually every episode are correct for 1958 because they are later models (albeit of a design that underwent very few changes clear through 1982). The vehicle used most frequently on TMMM sports the heavy-duty Congressionally-mandated 5-mph bumpers first used on 1973-1974 models. What's more, both Checkers are wrong for this show--and dozens of other period-piece TV programs and movies--because they are painted solid yellow with black striping. The ubiquitous New York City yellow cab didn't become ubiquitous until after 1967, when the city required all medallion taxis to be painted yellow. Prior to that, nearly all NYC taxis were multi-colored and not solid yellow. Googling old photos from before 1967 show most Checkers were yellow/green/black, etc.

Jay Livingston said...

Bumpers, wow. You certainly know a lot more about cars than I do. I was not in New York in 1958, but I have a dim memory of green-and-cream Checker cabs in Chicago (with a narrow checkerboard black-and-cream strip just under the window line). Did Checker make the same color scheme for all cities?

There’s a YouTube video (here) of a a 1958 Checker, green and yellow, I confess that I do not remember any such car.

Chris said...

Thank you SO much for this, Jay. I love the show, but this and Mad Men often make me wince. Why why WHY can't they hire someone who knows (even if it IS only because I watch so many old movies and TV shows) to tweak the scripts? I'd love to have a job like that! I recall one New Year's Eve on Mad Men, Joanie looked at the mirror and deadpanned, "1960, I am so over you." Aiyeee!

Regarding girdle-wearing: My 95-pound mother was reprimanded at work for not wearing one in 1960. The issue was having two buns... you needed a perfectly smooth bottom in them tight sheath dresses! ;)

SkyRiter said...

Jay, it was the taxi companies that decided on the colors and livery, not Checker (just as airlines decide how aircraft will be painted, not Boeing). Below is a photo taken in Times Square in the early 1960s that shows a multi-colored Checker and other taxis. But when it comes to cars used in period pieces, it's not just about getting the years right. For automotive geeks, the main complaint about TMMM is that virtually every car on camera is beautifully restored, even the cabs. There is not a dent or ding or scrape or missing hubcap in sight. Which is impossible, as anyone who has lived in NYC can tell you. There is one scene of Midge walking through Greenwich Village and every car she passes is so pristine it's like she's at an auto show.

As for Mad Men, Chris is so right about the anachronistic language at times. I still recall a character being directed to Human Resources rather than Personnel.

http://www.oldnycphotos.com/ts42l.html

Mark said...

Hi Jay,

I found this blog from a link in Dec 4th, Times article.

It's great. I also hate anachronisms but, as you say, maybe they're trying to get a young audience to relate to the characters.

It's like when a 30's movie character says something like: I love this place; it's so gay.

To a modern ear, it's very jarring.

Anyway, good to hear from you.

Mark Koppel

cfredc said...

You guys “hate” the anachronisms? I find them great fun, a chance to look down on those young whippersnapper TV biggies. You know, this ain’t “Roots.”

Chris said...

LOL, cfredc. True, they are rather fun. And true, they are far more jarring in drama (or dramatic moments).

I was just remembering how, in 1930s big-studio adaptations of Dickens stories, there often was quite Edwardian English spoken (a friend of David Copperfield's, not aware his father had died before David's birth, remarks that "[his] old man must be a dashed hard-nosed old chap," or suchlike).

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I initially enjoyed the show but the anachronisms did indeed drive me nuts. I agree it's sloppy writing/research and am shocked that the creators/producers are not more aware of them, as indicated by the interview clip. "Give it up for..." as a way of bringing up a performer to the stage was especially glaring...how could any researcher not know that? In fact the entire character is an anachronism, as Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller would never have gotten away with that kind of vulgarity back then, even in a downtown after-hours club. Sarah Silverman and Amy Schumer were decades away.

Jay Livingston said...

cfredc — You have a point. At first, the anachronisms were irritating and distracted me from the show. But now, it’s like the “can you find eight things wrong with this picture” games in the puzzle books of my childhood. It was fun to look for and find the mistakes. OTOH, I wouldn’t want that picture hanging on my wall

Anonymous said...

One other linguistic anachronism I heard was when someone used the phrase "take a meeting with." I don't recall the episode (one of the later ones in the first season) or who said it. Yes, to anyone who's old enough, those anachronisms are jarring!

AnnFlag said...

Isn't this like demanding that Ben-Hur be filmed in Latin? The modern audience needs to understand the actors.

Unknown said...

mannn... i searched far and wide for a blog like this! i'm not necessarily bothered by the fact that there are anachronisms, so much as i'm bothered by the fact that they're not owning up to them. (like, i'm a novelist and willingly go out of my way to not capitalize in blog posts. weird? sure. but I owns my sh*t!) it's part of the charm!

one thing really does chap my hide, though. in a truly spectacularly styled show, none of the women wear hose. it's irksome because i'm a throwback. a hypocritical one, sure, but, well. i'm just sayin'.

fabulous post! and I love the bandwagoners. makes me feel less of a nitpicky nutjob.

Anonymous said...

It just seems sloppy. Maisel's dialogue mistakes are so much more basic than Mad Men's. "That's not a thing" is SO new. Also, in the first episode of Season 2 did you catch "I can't". I thought I was the only one who this kind of stuff annoyed. Glad to find this self-confirming blog post, or I should say: glad this is a thing.

Anonymous said...

What was with the use of “gay” twice in the last few episodes? I AM gay, and I can tell you for a fact that wasnt the word they woukd’ve Used. I guess the writers are avoiding the PC police. But: I SERIOUSLY love this show!!!

Jay Livingston said...

I wondered about gay when I heard it in Season One. But what word would a good, liberal Jew or a hip Village denizen have used? Homosexual sounds formal, almost medical, but every other term I can think of was a pejorative.

nanoRat said...

Has anybody ever thought that the anachronisms are intentional. To make Midge Maisel "ahead of her time". To place them in sharp contrast to all the meticulous detail in the couture and interiors. YES, her stand up style IS more like a modern day comic. THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT. It's obvious that Amy Sherman-Palladino is a lot smarter than all you self righteous, know-it-all assholes.

Jay Livingston said...

nanoRat: Your point is similar to what I said in the follow-up post (here) that I mentioned in the addendum at the end of this post. It was about being “relatable.” What I said about language there applies even more so to styles of stand-up. If Midge were doing the kind of comedy that most working comics were doing at the time — telling jokes — she wouldn’t be relatable. That may also be true if she were doing the “new” comedy of that era that evolved out of improv and sketch comedy. Bob Newhart (whose act Joel copies word-for-word in S1 E1), Shelly Berman, Nichols and May — were all playing characters.

The modern style, combining observation and confession that appear to be based on the comic’s real experience, makes for a more interesting TV character. Sherman-Palladino may have deliberately made that decision. But I take her at her word when she says that she strives for historical accuracy in language. Apparently, she just isn’t very good at it. Or maybe, it’s just that when there’s a conflict between what sounds historically accurate and what sounds right to today’s ears, she chooses the latter every time.

Unknown said...

Mrs. Maisel's type of comedy may have been ahead of it's time but only in the mainstream. Recall "Shy Baldwin" commenting on how "Moms Mabley" "tells it like it is." And it did hit the mainstream only a few years later (Joan Rivers appeared on and wrote for Candid Camera in 1960) Also, if Midge, Susie and Lenny speak in an updated vernacular it makes sense because they are supposed to be on the cutting edge. But when Joel's dad tries to reassure Midge that "We will always be there for you" that sounds a little ridiculous. No one born around 1900 would have said that in 1958.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

The production is fine, the music is fine, the actors are fine, but Midge in front of the audience looks fake and a bad quip about Benjamin Spock´s book.

Jay said...

I guess I'm first to notice the record label anachronism in the last episode of Season 2. When Midge comes to Susie's apartment to tell her the Shy Baldwin news, she's listening to a Warner Brothers LP with a label that didn't exist until 1968 or 1970 (either 4A or 5A on this list):

http://www.vinylbeat.com/cgi-bin/labelfocus.cgi?label=WARNER+BROS.+%28WB%29&label_section=V

Also, people didn't say "I was, like," to mean "I said" or "I thought" until sometime during the '80s.

Unknown said...

Thanks for pointing all of this out. It's been bothering me a lot, too. I hope some writers care enough to read it, for future seasons of this show or others. About Mrs. Maisel's style of comedy, I agree it's anachronistic, and seems more like something from the mid-60s or later, well after Lenny Bruce. But I think the "foul" language might be (accidentally?) not so anachronistic. There are some slight references to Rusty Warren in the show (first recordings 1959 and '60 -- my parents had them when I was 3-4 at the time but I didn't hear them until much later!). If she was getting that kind of material on records (and not dirty party records sold under the counter, which was a thing), I imagine a lot more direct and risqué material was heard live in clubs ca. 1959.

Anonymous said...

Another one was Susie saying you're freaking me iut here.

oogada said...

So many horses here, and all so high.

Linguistic prudishness/purism can wreck your life, certainly your enjoyment of a seriously good entertainment, am I right?

Like Evangelicals' failing to recognize the book to which they proclaim themselves devoted and use to pass judgement on all of humanity is the often-perverted, politically and culturally manipulated product of many translations, multiple versions, and obsessive parsing of words and phrases that will never again be understood the way they were when first employed, "anachronistic gotcha" police fail to admit that what they're checking the script against is never origin dates ("nobody would have said that...") but, rather, popularization dates.

That is "Give it up for..." had to be uttered by some schmo in Lansing enough times for the wanna-be in Toledo to pick it up and use it that night the tour bus broke down outside the club in Archbold and the drummer carried to the next night's show in Danforth.

One failed house band date, new back-up studio gig, interview with hometown paper later, maybe some cub reporter throws it in a story and, wham!, the world records "Give it up..." for your script researchers to find and your temporal language cops to comment on.

This isn't as cut and dried, as write and wrong as the trend of this conversation seems to indicate, and it certainly isn't worth messing with a pretty nice production over.

Climbing off my own lofty mount, I have to admit all this is fun. Its just the growing air of critical self-righteousness that irritates...

Anonymous said...

Clearly there was a Back to the Future situation from which they learned all the futuristic expressions.

But seriously, I did pause to check the first use of "for f---'s sake" which some sources say was 1959! I was surprised it was that old. The language anachronisms are totally jarring. They need to hire an olde tyme language checker.

ssul1982 said...

I think I heard the term micromanage somewhere in the third episode of the second season.

Jay Livingston said...

ssul: "Micromanage" doesn't surprise me. I've only made it through Episode 2, which gave us "low hanging fruit." I don't like the tone of season two. It's in the style of a movie of a Broadway musical -- caricatures instead of characters, stylized dialogue delivery. They basically told us this in the opening scene of S2 E1, which was like a choreographed dance number but with rolling chairs and no music.

Michelle said...

I caught "hanging out" "font" and "FYI."

Hester said...

I wish you'd start a thread commenting on the use of the expression "If you'll excuse me", which is heard in almost all period dramas and strikes me as a modern phrase. Is anyone else bothered by that?

Anonymous said...

SO much focus on the gorgeous visual aspect, yet so careless about the speech. Why? It's grating, and unnecessary.

Paying a sextuagenarian editor would be a lot cheaper than paying for the costumes and sets. (In fact, I'll bet they could find sextuagenarian volunteers who would advise them for free! I would do it.)

Yep: Font, FYI. And how about "Chinese Reds?" I remember "Red Chinese."

Anonymous said...

I'm not buying the excuses for Mrs. Maisel's unending string of ridiculous and distracting anachronisms, especially in a show whose protagonist is supposed to be a writer/performer of the period! It's simply lazy writing, it undercuts characterization and it's tiresome.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

I simply stopped watching TMMM. I could not stand the anachronisms, the often irritating nasal voice of Rachel Brosnahan, the profanity in high degree, the disrespect for the Catholic Church (in the episode of the her friend´s wedding ceremony) and the disrespect for Mr. Benjamin Spock.

Taking these issues apart, I praise the TV show for the good actors and the production design.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog after searching for "mrs maisel anachronisms in script". After reading all of the comments, I leave here vaguely gratified that I'm not the only one who noticed, but mostly horrified at the tenor and content of the comments.

Folks, it's a show produced in the present day that is set in the 1950s and 60s, not a historical document. The intended viewership is a modern mass market audience. You want complete fidelity to the language and mores of the period? Go watch old films from the day.

The show delightfully and accurately captures the larger zeitgeist of the time, and in particular nails NYC Jewish culture in that period spot-on. The patter and rhythm of the characters' speech owes more to Neil Simon than historical archives. The show uses some anachronistic language to make the lines flow more smoothly to modern ears and to make the characters more relatable to a modern audience. As entertainment, it works, and it works extremely well.

To use a modern phrase: Get over yourselves.

Unknown said...

I'm glad to hear someone calling this show out for what I have to call sloppy writing and research. It's a cute, perky show, but the ignorance of the times shown by the writers is often stunning to me. I found one review that covers this well, says it better than I can sum up here. https://www.heyalma.com/sorry-but-the-marvelous-mrs-maisel-has-a-history-problem/
They barely note the fact that her manager is a very strongly butch lesbian and she is a supposedly upper class Jewish girl from a pretty conventional family. In those days, hanging out with such a woman would cause a big scandal or at least a lot of gossip. Applying political correctness to the script really doesn't work. Things were VERY repressed in those days, yet they have her talking openly about her sexuality onstage as if that was normal at the time. It would have been considered probably far more outrageous for her as a woman to do that kind of material than Lenny doing what he did. Yet it only happens toward the very end of the second season that a club manager tells her the word "pregnant" is too filthy for his club. The writers knowledge of morals/mores or whatever of the 50s and early 60s is nearly non-existent, except. as you say in this article, the visuals. I notice the language, the events and behaviors shown much more than if the fashions or colors weren't true to the time. Also, here being so pretty and sweet doesn't work. Joan Rivers was insecure and unconventional looking and actually FUNNY! Lenny actually did write her a note once, when she was criticized: "You're right, they're wrong." Well, my chain has been yanked: AND ANOTHER thing: Lenny Bruce was not that mild and inoffensive. He was not that WASPy either. I watched the thing but it drove me crazy. I grew up with actually funny Jewish comedians and I studied (enjoyably) nearly everything Lenny Bruce recorded AND read "How to Talk Dirty and Influence People." So... end of rant.

Alex W said...

I noticed the anachronism "onesie" in S2 E2 today when Miriam is slags off the male comics.

That word has only been in popular use here in Britain during the 2010s as far as I'm aware, so I guess that was especially noticeable. Apparently the word comes from the 1980s.

Maybe they should give up and say the show is using Translation Convention? ;)

Alex W said...

Pretty sure I first heard the word "rapey" in the Noughties at the absolute earliest if not the 2010s, so yeah that seemed especially out of place.

Anonymous said...

The Jerry Lewis telethon, referenced in the finale, did not begin until 1966.

KrunkYou said...

When Midge and Susie are on the road toward the end of season 2 Midge worries that if they are stopped by a cop he’ll “run our plates” and figure out the car was stolen. Not only is the dialogue wrong but pretty sure computer technology wasn’t yet available to local law enforcement in 1959. And the plate was out of state!

Cary said...

The most glaring is "give it up for...". No one was introduced like that until the 1990s. I just watched the first episode of the new season and although I enjoyed the stylized switchboard in B. Altman's (it's like watching a musical), when the girls asked Mrs. Maisel about working at the makeup counter by asking "you were in the show??". I almost barfed. The term "the show" was invented in the movie Bull Durham as used by minor leaguers to refer to the major leagues. That was never a real life ballplayers term. It was made up by the writers of the movie.

Cary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cary said...

About the comment above on the Jerry Lewis telethon...the poster is incorrect. It only went national in 1966...the telethon was a local NYC thing for years before that.

Cary said...

Someone can confirm but I don't think that there were any PA announcements in the subway system or on the trains in the late 50s/early 60s.

Adrian said...

Font! And repeated so often as a laugh line! That had to be deliberate.

Anonymous said...

My wife & I have now watched both seasons of Mrs. M and I too noticed many of these "mistakes" in language, clothing, automobiles, etc. etc. that so many have pointed out here because I'm old enough to know. I'm also old enough not to take notes & enjoy the show for what it is, despite the producers either not being completely truthful or more like not being fully aware that they were not being so "accurate" as they claim.

That said, this isn't the first, and certainly won't be the last TV show or movie that gets real life wrong - it's been going on forever.

One of my favorites was the old Kojak TV show that had Telly Salavas "driving" from the fictional "11th Precinct" of Manhattan South to Queens & his car would be seen going south on the FDR Drive in the East 20s, then crossing the 59th Street Bridge FROM Queens, then on the Brooklyn Bridge TO Brooklyn, then pulling up at a suburban house that was more like Long Island or NJ in the 1960s. Later seasons Savalas had the show filmed in LA, so they would splice in some NY exteriors and he often got out of his car on a street with palm trees in the background!

I enjoyed the show anyway.

Jay Livingston said...

I can’t help noticing “mistakes”; they just sound jarring to my ear. But in a cop show like Kojak or a comedy like The Goldbergs (set in the 80s) they don’t bother me. They’re just amusing – like palm trees in Brooklyn. But Mad Men and TMMM want to be taken serioiusly, and they take themselves seriously. They are saying, “This is how it was sixty years ago.”

It’s not just a matter of gotcha. These language anachronisms raise interesting questions (as I tried to explore in the follow-up post I linked to at the end of this post): Why don’t the writers or producers or checkers catch these mistakes? Why is language different from costumes or set decor?

BillABC said...

Jay, I don't think TMMM or even Mad Men was designed to be taken "seriously." They are just entertainment - upscale compared most of the crapola on the old "tube" - but not documentaries either. So if they're a little loose with the language or the color & bumpers of 1950s Checker cabs...well, I'll give them a pass. The producers' biggest mistake was claiming in interviews to be spot on with the language as well as the costumes & sets. They ain't Ken Burns

Unknown said...

Thank you for verifying that. “Pantyhose” sounded very wrong when I heard it. I thought it was a fluke oversight but after reading this article I understand that “fluke” may not describe it at all. Despite the inaccuracies I remain captivated by the story.

Cary said...

Something so simple...the Beauty Pageant in the Catskills...The Chicken Fat song was written in 1962...so how is he exercising to the song in 1959 or is it 1960.

AND...i had been to those Catskill hotels...I guess this is one of the cheapie bungalow ones...by the lake and rather rustic. The actual hotels were HUGE!....The Browns, Grossingers, The Pines, The Concord, The Windsor, etc.

This show is so 21st century with dress up and props from the late 1950s.

Cary said...

Lastly, rarely did the men stay all summer at these resorts...the wives often did.

Cary said...
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Cary said...

Ah...the man in the rowboat loves "the new font". A term in those days that would have only be known to a typesetter.

Jay Livingston said...

Cary, I haven’t gotten to the Catskills episode yet, but I guess TMMM goes to the less expensive bungalow resorts. (For more on all types of Catskill resorts, see here.) There’s a 1985 indie, “The Gig” that gives a flavor for this tier of the Catskills. The Concord it ain’t. You can see the entire movie on YouTube.

John Tan said...
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John Tan said...

I picked up on the word "micromanage" being used on one of the episodes - I'm a younger one, but I have a feeling this word wasn't in the lexicon in those days.

I wonder if running the script by someone who lived through this era firsthand would have been helpful. I'm sure they would have been able to catch so many of these anachronisms!

Watching the old shows (I'm thinking "What's My Line?"), it feels like they're speaking a different language during that era. If the writers preserved that vernacular, I don't know if the show would be as relatable and fresh to modern-day audiences.

I love this show to death, in large part because it magically transports me to an era I am so fascinated about but did not experience. The dialogue does seem more like something I'd hear on one of my lunch breaks, but I still love it! At the end of the day, it's a comedy...a 2018 comedy!

Warren Goldfarb said...

Jay's second column is certainly right, that if the characters were to speak authentic 1950s informal New York-ese they would be much less "relatable". But there's little excuse for many of the very modern locutions used. In addition to the examples given here already, I was struck by "Are you hitting on me?" (S1 E5), and "monkeys sensing a tsunami" (we would have said "tidal wave"). As for "gay", as a gay man who grew up in NY over fifty years ago I can attest that the only words used would be derogatory, "fag", "homo", "pansy", "queer".

There are a few mistakes visually as well. The NYC buses are wrong; back then they were cigar-shaped with tiny windows. The interiors of subway cars are also inaccurate, although that may be a joke (the #1 IRT train in aqua, like a 1950s bathroom).

One question I'd like to investigate: when did American non-Orthodox Jews take up the Eastern European wedding custom of lifting bride and groom up on chairs? It's universal now (and even imitated at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs), but I do not remember it at all from the 1950s and 60s. I actually think Rose and Abe Weissman would have found it somewhat offensive.

Jay Livingston said...

Warren, thanks for commenting. I was wondering about "gay." It sounded wrong to me. But I also wondered what term gay people themselves would have used in 1958. "Homosexual" is neutral but technical, almost medical/psychiatric. In "Boys in the Band," set in the 60s, the characters use both, as in the line “You show me a happy homosexual, and I'll show you a gay corpse.”

Cary said...
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Cary said...

Using the term "waiting on" instead of "waiting for" would not have happened in 1960.

Cary said...

I can't believe the writers thought it was okay to use the term "playdate" when referring to kids getting together. Geez!!!!

Cary said...

True, using the term "gay" for a homosexual would never have happened in 1960.

Samuel L. Leiter said...

Soon after I began watching this otherwise wonderful show on Amazon Prime this week I began noticing the anachronisms everyone else has been commenting on. I was 18 in 1958 and sometimes hung out in the Village so the world of the show is very familiar. Anyway, I'd like to add that no one seems to have mentioned that early on in the very first episode, the sound track has Barbra Streisand singing. Streisand was still in high school in 1958 (my friend went to Erasmus at the same time) and it would be several years before she began her recording career. One would assume that the soundtrack is be true to the period, right? Also, as I recall, most New York Jews of that generation would have pronounced the name of the holiday as Yom
KIPPer, not Yom KiPPUR, which I only began hearing years later. Thanks for this blog entry, by the way. It was just what I was looking for. (It's also the first I've found that uses the same template as my own blog!).

Cary said...

All true Samuel. We older folk have fun with this. When I bring this up to anyone in the younger generations...they respond "who cares?". So, I just explain that it is a game we play but we still like the show.

Jay Livingston said...

Samuel Leiter, I’m kind of inclined to give them a pass on Streisand. The characters are not actually listening to that record. It’s for us, the audience today, who hear it as old enough to be from about the same period. (I hope your friend is familiar with “Lookin’ for an Echo” which begins:

In Erasmus Hall High School, we used to harmonize,
Me and Benny and Ira, and two Italian guys.


Agreed about Yom Kippur, which changed the placement of its accent around the time that SUKKos became SukkOT.

Cary, I can remember my grade school teacher correcting kids who said "wait on." Those kids must have gotten it from some place, so I assume that it was in the spoken language of the time.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

I gave up on the series. Profanity in excess. As in major movies and TV shows nowadays. Seems that the average American only understands a sentence if it contains a f* word.

Besides, the tobacco companies do not need the advertising for their cigarettes. The movies and TV stars do it for free. Jesus!

Warren Goldfarb said...

About Samuel Liter's comment: this is actually a systematic anachronism in the show. In the synagogue scenes, the Hebrew being chanted is pronounced in the modern (Israeli) way, whereas a Conservative shul in those years would almost certainly have used the Ashkenazic pronounciation, because that's what the adults would have grown up on. (In Reform synagogues, the transition to Israeli pronunciation came sooner — as in mine, where I started studying Hebrew in 1958 — no doubt because fewer of the adult congregants actually knew any Hebrew.) In Ashkenazic, words tend to have the stress on the penultimate syllable; in Israeli, on the last (e.g., mish-POCH-eh vs. mish-pe-CHAH).

cassandra lite said...

Found you by googling "Maisel anachronisms." It's not just the language, it's also historical inaccuracies. At least once an episode, something jumps out at me. For example, her talking about the snow scene at her wedding being right out of Zhivago...years before the novel was published, let alone the movie produced. Then a woman (first epi of season two) handing her the card of a psychiatrist who's "done wonders" for Sylvia Plath--years before anyone knew her name.

Oh, then there's the absolute impossibility of her appearing topless on stage and not being convicted of indecent exposure. Same with the f-bombs. Three years later, Lenny Bruce would be arrested for saying "cocksucker." And a decade later, Jim Morris would be arrested for allegedly exposing himself.

DavidB said...

Fascinating discussion! I'm a newcomer to the series who's just now seen all the episodes. I love the style, the directing, the camerawork, the writing, almost everything. A 1953 baby, I never would have caught the many anachronisms that those with eagle eyes or moth ears (look it up) have found. An occasional more modern phrase here or there to please the modern ear doesn't bother me in the least, or a car or other item appearing a couple years too soon. As someone said, this isn't exactly Ken Burns material, thank goodness. Or a science project.

But the more substantial, repeated social inaccuracies do bug me. I have a fairly advanced grasp of the use of profanity myself, but it almost always seems uncomfortably forced, inappropriate and out of place on this program. (Way later, in 1972 George Carlin was still getting arrested for his "Seven words you can never say on television.") And it's not just in Midge's stand up routines. I can't imagine her casually dropping F-bombs while home with her parents, and whatever she said at her friend's wedding, etc. etc. Street-wise Susie on the other hand appears right at home with it in casual conversation, though that seems blown out of proportion too.
The other problem area for me is the near neglect of the all-but-forgotten children. Why were they even created to be in this series in the first place? Would a woman of the era like Midge leave them day and night, or on a whim while away for days in Paris, or apparently, for 6 months on the road? It is one glaring character flaw in an otherwise very likeable and admirable woman.
Jeez, I hope I'm not sounding like Dan Quayle ripping into Murphy Brown!

Jay Livingston said...

David B. It's not the amount of profanity; it's the choice of words. Sixty years ago, those F-bombs would have been G-bombs. I have a much more recent post about this (here, complete with a tally of F-words and G-words.

You are right about the kids, but so far it seems more a problem of plot construction than of social history. The writers just ignore the kids and hope nobody will notice or remember. In the coming season, when she goes on the road with the Johnny Mathis character, the show may deal more directly with the kid-problem. I'm not sure what the real-world female comics did. Phyllis Diller had six kids, all born in the 1940s. Joan Rivers gave birth to a daughter in the 60s. Elaine May became a mom in 1949, but she worked mostly in NYC and didn't spend a lot of time on the road.

Valdemir Fernandes said...

Jay, you specific page about F-words and G-words does not exist. Please update the link.

Jay Livingston said...

Valdemir: try here.

Unknown said...

Just finished the first season. "Nerd alert" stood out to me as well. Didn't anyone else immediately hear it in Austin Powers' voice (Austin Powers came out in 1997)? It's not only an anachronism ... its a stolen joke from Mike Myers. You'd think a show that makes such a big point about not stealing the work of comedians would be a little more careful!

Unknown said...

People had just started calling their home a "pad" in 1959. The character who used this term was on the leading edge. People didn't regularly say something was "amazing" until the 2000s. In one of the last episodes, Midge wonders if something that happened is going to become "a thing." I notice what's wrong with the language, and now I wonder what's wrong with the clothes and decor. This blog is a lot of fun, because now instead of being annoyed by anachronisms, I can play this game along with you.

Chopdawg said...

Just watched the episode in which "On A Wonderful Day Like Today" played in the background; this song is from the play "...Roar of the Greaspaint..." which didn't premier until 1964.

Steven Colatrella said...

Like a lot of people here I found this blog by Googling keywords for Mrs. Maisel and anachronisms.

I admit I noticed only a couple of the Season 1 anachronisms that your very sharp readers here caught. It has actually been watching Season 2 that has driven me nuts with anachronisms so obvious that it seemed that the writers - who have gotten a few positive write-ups in the NY Times and elsewhere for their close attention to time-specific detail - have been doing this on purpose in Season 2.

But apparently, reading everyone here's posts, I see that there is continuity. The things that were most obvious to me were yes, the use of "gay" well before Stonewall in 1969, though it is understandable that Palladino would want to avoid use of any of the insulting terms that were common in that time. But less defensible are things like Midge's father working on "artificial intelligence" and using the term. I think "cybernetics" is the likely term used at the time and I am skeptical that AI was a phrase used before the late 1980s at the earliest. The casual use of the word fuck, which even in the Sopranos (I grew up Italian-American in northern New Jersey) was used implausibly not just when Tony was working with his fellow gangsters, but at the dinner table with his mother present - something that I can assure you would not go over well, is WAY out of place in Midge's standup routine and her everyday conversations with almost everyone.

Another thing: Columbia did all it could during the 1950s to prevent Jews from attending. It had briefly taken over my alma mater from the 1970s and 80s, Bard College during the 1940s and 50s and often told qualified Jewish applicants that they would like "our upstate campus". So, I am not sure if even as late as 1958-9 there would have been a longtime tenured Jewish member of the faculty. It is not impossible, but the campus in New York that was well known for being the site of upward social mobility for immigrant and ethnic groups was City College.

Jay, I believe you were the person at Montclair State that hired me around 2001-2 to teach for a few semesters before I moved on to other place, for which thanks. I had no idea this was your blog when I came looking for someone else to have noticed the anachronisms and am happy to have seen this.

Jay Livingston said...

Steven,
When I saw your name, I knew it sounded familiar, and as I was reading through your comment, I remembered that you taught for us as an adjunct. So it was nice to have that confirmed when I got to the last paragraph.

I don’t know much about math and science at Columbia in the fifties, but the sociology department had two very important professors who were Jews — Paul Lazarsfeld and Robert Merton (born Meyer Schkolnick — he first used Merton as a stage name for his brief career as a magician).

As for the language, in a later post, I offered the charitable interpretation that Palladino wants the characters to seem hip and unconventional — like Lenny Bruce (or Paul Krassner). But 1950s argot today sounds stilted rather than genuine. Who talks that way? The great irony is that if they used the real language, they would not seem like real people.

I agree with you about fuck and especially fucking. And in this case, I think the writers could have changed it to the word people at the time would have used — goddam (see this post).

Anonymous said...

Another anachronism I noticed: in the wedding Mrs. Maisel says she hired dancers from Pajama Game, which ran from 1954 to 1956. Then they do the famous bottle dance from Fiddler on the Roof. This is not a traditional dance, rather it was created by Jerome Robbins in the original production, which debuted in 1964. Thus it would have been impossible.

Monica said...

I have also been collecting some anachronistic terms, not so much to complain about the show but as an incentive to check first recorded use of some words. I did find FYI was used in the 1950s though I am not sure people would have used the initials in speech.

One I just noticed at the end of series 2- they use the common mistake "I have to lay down" for the intransitive 'to lie'. I'm not sure when people, mainly in the US I believe, began to use this form of the verb that previously was limited to the intransitive form: 'I laid the suit out on the bed'.

Cary said...

I would say that "wait on" would still not be used by educated upper west side Jewish at that time. Today, it is so common as to be not corrected.

Anonymous said...

Gender-specific, pantihose, micromanage, life's a bitch, literally, onesie...just the mistakes I've caught so far... not to mention, that a black woman probably wouldn't have been employed at a make up counter at a department store, and I don't think there was much makeup targeted towards black women at that time, and in all truth, I don't know how many black people at that time could've afforded to shop there. There's some whitewashing going on here....

Cary said...

In today's world, black actors will play "white" parts in order for them to have work. That is one anachronism that will not be changed. You will see black actors in Fiddler on the Roof which traditionally would not have black actors playing white Russians or white Eastern European Jews. So, if you think that black actors will only play servants because it is representing the 1950s, this will never happen unless they are making a race point in the movie or TV show.

Unknown said...

Cary, I completely agree about African Americans or actors of African descent portraying roles that were traditionally not intended for them. Don't want to turn this fun post into one about race, but it is definitely worth pointing out that some of those actors are not playing historically accurate parts. I'm actually happy about these 'errors' in chronology. It means we get a more diverse cast that invites a wider audience rather than alienates us.

Unknown said...

Also, in reply to the earlier comment which voiced these concerns:

'...and I don't think there was much makeup targeted towards black women at that time, and in all truth, I don't know how many black people at that time could've afforded to shop there...'

S/He is right about the scarcity of make up targeted towards African American women. However, Fashion Fair Cosmetics from Johnson Publications was a department store brand that began in the late 50s. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebony_Fashion_Fair)

Not too sure if it would have been available at the company they worked for, but it should be noted that the African American counter woman would have been catering to her clientele, no matter the ethnicity.

Lastly, I'd like to say I don't believe it's a matter of African Americans being able to 'afford' to shop there. It's probably more the issue of whether the patronage of AAs was encouraged or discouraged. But again, this is not a racial discussion! (but i had to add my two cents.)

Cary said...

Agreed!!

jaiquai said...

I found this thread by googling "Maisel" and" anachronisms" because I had a strong feeling there would be a discussion of this somewhere. I'm watching the first two seasons for the second time, getting a new housemate ready for Season 3 to kick in. This time around I actually heard Susie refer to a little club as being "off the grid," as well as several more that others have found and posted about. The verbal anachronisms have seemed to be coming at least 90 percent from Susie. And it took until last night to wonder if the writers are doing it on purpose to make Susie seem prescient. She's the one who sees potential in Midge before anyone else does. Also, a turn of phrase doesn't necessarily go viral the first time someone says it to someone else. Maybe we're asked to consider the possibility that this is an ahead-of-its-time environment where phrases that won't make it into the mainstream for decades are already being used, and that maybe Susie has actually coined some of them. It's a reach, and I did catch Lenny say "spitting while black" last night. But there are so many of them, and so many of them are coming out of Susie's mouth, that it at least seemed possible the writers are doing it on purpose.

Anonymous said...

As a (somewhat peripheral) "insider" in film production, I think it boils down to lead time. Actual script dialog is often being tinkered with right up to the time of shooting; sets, props, and costumes are designed much further in advance. They're also reused more; each scene's dialog is unique. Consequently there is just not as much time to have experts review the script.

Jaiquai said...

Was anybody using “ask” as a noun in 1960? The yellow teddy bears were a “weird ask.” And the reason for it wasn’t even accurate. When the manager buries a weird request—like bowls of M&Ms without any green ones—deep in the guts of a contract, it’s easy to see if it’s been complied with. If yes, it’s a good sign they’re adhering to the other provisions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being here! I complained about the anachronisms to a work mate whose son had a bit part on the show, and she wouldn't hear it. I remember at the time complaining specifically about "font" and "micromanage", I know there were others. And "off the grid" certainly would never have been used - there was no such concept so suggesting Midge might have been coining the phrase would not apply in that case at least.

Anonymous said...

Off topic, but the "wait on" comments make me think of getting "in line" versus getting "on line" for, say, lunch in the cafeteria.

When in college in upstate New York in the 1970s as a native upstater I remember hearing those from downstate using "on line" which I thought was weird. but it took hold and became the expression for computer use.

Anonymous said...

Love the discussion here, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who's noticed this stuff. It's maddening that these writers just plain let these things go by without blinking.

I remember in Downton Abbey the Mary character's line once was "I haven't a clue". It was so jarring that I've never forgotten it.

"Nerd alert" was the one that first piqued my attention in Maisel; now I can't stop hearing'em, even well into Season 3. Come on writers, you can do better than this.

Cary said...

Here we go with the new season and for starters...we can just give up on the language. As I tell people, it's really a 1950s dress-up show. No one cares about this except older folks but for starters....

Again "font"...where people would have said "type".
Mrs. Maisel is confused and says "I can't follow the thread"...hmm...I only remember hearing that used with email.

Interesting that they are watching J. Fred Muggs on the Today show in 1959 when the chimp was tossed out in 1957. Fred is still alive at 67 years old, by the way.

I said early that you have to excuse the fact that black actors are being used in scenes where you wouldn't have seen blacks...as in behind department store counters of ritzy Manhattan dept. stores. Black actors need to work and they should be playing these parts.

However, Las Vegas in the 1950s was as bad as Mississippi as far as segregation and I don't believe you would see black acts freely roaming around hotel kitchens,so naturally mixing with whites. I am surprised that they don't even tackle this issue. When I see an act with three black backup singers, I think more mid-1960s than Vegas in the 1950s...let alone having a white jewish comedianne (they wouldn't have called her a comedian). Nat King Cole and his group were allowed to stay at the Sands in the late 1950s, but no other hotel...only because he wouldn't perform otherwise.

Cary said...

I see they did address the race issue on hotels in the Florida sequence. I am not sure but I believe she was doing a TV commercial for a maxipad type product, Pursette? Cute idea but no where in the U.S. at that time would you see a radio or TV commercial for any type of Feminine Hygiene product until years later. I guess the writers just stopped caring at this point.

Cary said...

It wasn't a TV comemercial, that was my error...just a radio spot.

Cary said...

Lastly, the dance to open Shy's act at the Apollo was a very hot, modern sexy thing that was totally current in its choreography and hotness. It was something you'd see on So You Think You Can Dance or a current Bway show. Anyway....with all this said, it's a great series and you just have to watch it for the entertainment it is.

Wiseask said...

The alternative to whining about anachronisms is to enjoy the show for what it is. Think of a Thoroughly Modern Millie who’s actually thoroughly modern. In Mrs. Maisel, the writers created a smart 21st Century woman born too early and making the best of it. If you think the show would be better by having her behave and sound like June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson, then quit complaining and enjoy the reruns on MeTV.

jaiquai said...

Pointing out an irritating shortcoming doesn’t interfere with enjoying the program. We’re all still watching it! I hope established critics are pointing out this particular flaw so if just might trickle back to the show runners and the script editors. When they know better they can do better. This is a big budget project, they could stand to put some smart money into the dialog; the scripts deserve some TLC to give it the ring of truth. A Mrs. Moscovicz-aged consultant, or an actual linguist who specializes in contemporary US idioms, would come in handy. The writing is fast and smart, but it’s also ridiculously 21st Century. This is fixable.

Wiseask said...

Good thinking. Let’s gut the show of its snappy contemporary dialogue, delete any song on the soundtrack
even if it enhances the story because it wasn’t popular that particular year, and add some authentic 50s and 60s canned laughter. The sanitized result won’t be marvelous anymore, but at least The Anemic Mrs. Maisel will be accurate.

jaiquai said...

Wiseask, nobody is complaining that Midge is acting too modern for 1959-60. We all know this is the story of a trailblazer. It’s that some characters, mostly Susie, are using phrases that were not being used until 40 or 50 years after these characters were young. The f-bombs are in fact flying faster and thicker than they would have during the Eisenhower Administration, which is another issue. Plus there’s a lot of casual copulation being shown for an era when birth control was unreliable, abortions were illegal, and out-of-wedlock pregnancy was catastrophic. But the anachronisms are the topic here. Anachronisms being phrases that are way out of time, like “rock star” and “off the grid” and “nerd alert” and “spitting while black,” or constantly saying ”totally” back when people were more likely to be saying “often” or “very.” Nobody was hip back when people were still trying to be hep.

Wiseask said...

Anachronisms are not limited to words, and certainly aren’t limited to just those words that haven’t earned your expert seal of approval. Feel free to create your own show using whatever words you want. Let others carp over whether Columbia would have had a tenured Jewish professor in the 1950s or if Barbra Streisand released that song in 1965 or (shudder) 1964. As Susie might say: Who the fuck cares? The show is marvelous the way it is, and thankfully after three successful award winning seasons the writers think so too.

jaiquai said...

Wiseask, you make it sound like there’s no territory between a show that’s perfect and a show that’s pure crap. Haven’t you ever given a book or a restaurant — or anything else — four stars out of a possible five? And written about what it would’ve taken for it to deserve that fifth star? Here we’ve got a good story well told, and appealing actors playing characters it’s easy to root for, and gorgeous sets and lavish production numbers, and a script that’s snappy and smart and really works except for one big thing. What in the world ticks you off about people writing about that one big thing? And what makes you think people writing here about the anachronisms aren’t enjoying the series?

Wiseask said...

You are confusing me being ticked off with my having fun at your expense. The people who seem genuinely ticked off are those like yourself who convey their displeasure with the way the show’s written. That “one big thing,” as you put it. If they really like the show so much as you insist, they have odd ways of expressing it.

jaiquai said...

I have no idea how much others like the show, except that everyone seems to be paying close attention and sticking with it through the third season. Sounds like you don’t really give a rip one way or the other, but that you enjoy putting people down for caring about quality. Guess you hit the jackpot here.

Wiseask said...

Of course I care about the quality of the show, which is why I have bothered to defend it against people like you who have taken so much time and space — on this blog at least — to criticize it over such minutiae. I don’t deny your right to critize the show, but please respect my right to criticize your criticisms.

jaiquai said...

I’m not convinced you’re capable of recognizing a linguistic anachronism when you hear one. If that’s the case, then it truly wouldn’t matter to you and so to you the rest of us are stuck on “minutiae.” And if you completely lack empathy for the sensibilities of others, then for you there’s no meaningful difference between “this doesn’t matter to me” and “this doesn’t matter at all.”

I recognize, and here acknowledge, that the feature of the show being discussed here would probably bother most younger viewers less than most older ones. Fine. Go enjoy your show and let the big people talk.

But if you’ve lived long enough to hear the language change and the actors are constantly being made speak outside the time of the series’ 1950s-60s time period, it’s jarring and it detracts from the enjoyability of the experience. It keeps yanking you out of the scene and forces you to work harder and harder to “just roll with it.” It interferes with my willing suspension of disbelief. And yes, that is a point of quality: the ring of truth, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jay Livingston said...

Hey, you two. Don’t make me pull this blog over. A little holiday spirit, please. And meanwhile, you might want to look at this.

jaiquai said...

It says, “ Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist.”

Wiseask said...

Thanks, Jay. The critic for the New York Times observed in his review of Mrs. Maisal last year that the show “takes place less in the 1950s than in a 2018 idea of a 1950s movie’s idea of the 1950s.” If your readers afflicted by anachronisms view the show through this helpful perspective, they should find the experience less jarring and yanking.

Jay Livingston said...

I don't know why that link didn't work. Here's the URL https://montclairsoci.blogspot.com/2019/12/mrs-maisel-gets-one-right.html
Or just go to the main page -- https://montclairsoci.blogspot.com

Cary said...

You may not have noticed, but this is a place for describing the anachronisms of the show. ...not to receive a lecture. If you think we are describing Harriet Nelson or June Cleaver then you don’t have a grasp of what we are talking about

Wiseask said...

At the risk of complimenting you for being ironic, thank you for your lecture.

The moderator ably stated the issue in his initial post: “If they’re (referring to the show’s creators) so good about the props and costumes, how can they throw in a bunch of dialogue that has so many anachronisms?”

In the discussion that followed, people said they found the anachronisms troubling, grating, irritating, distracting, annoying, jarring and sloppy. This is by no means a complete list. It did not sound to me that they were praising the show for its anachronisms. My point was that if the show had been written without its anachronisms for the sake of historical accuracy, it would no longer be marvelous. That was intended as my opinion, not to deliver a lecture.

jaiquai said...

Wiseask, I think you’re wrong that period writing needs anachronisms to be sharp and witty and to work on a 21st Century audience. I’m given to understand Midge Maisel is loosely based on Joan Rivers. Joan Rivers was no Harriet Nelson, no June Cleaver. Even sanitized for TV, her early bits are still amazing. The biggest difference between Rivers and Maisel is that Rivers saw herself as a homely loser, as probably most comics do to an extent, whereas Midge Maisel seems to have extremely high self-esteem. Observational comedy is most often used by people who are looking in from the outside, to observe and comment on things they don’t have, whereas Midge is more of a full participant in her culture. Jewish and female, and thereby disadvantaged for some careers at the time, but well armed with beauty and confidence. I think a Midge Maisel would’ve learned her trade in law school instead of the Gaslight.

Most of the anachronisms in the script actually fall to Susie for some reason. When she describes a little club as being “off the grid,” it sounds like a dumb writing oversight. It wouldn’t detract from the effectiveness of the line if someone had caught it and changed it to “out of the way” or “hole in the wall.” Anachronisms don’t make the dialog funnier, unless the fact itself of so many anachronisms strikes someone as funny. Unintentionally funny, which I don’t think the writers are going for.

Wiseask said...

Many of the comments on this blog are critical of the show’s historical and cultural inaccuracies which go way beyond Susie, including nitpicking over the pronunciation of some Hebrew words, the appearance of a black salesperson behind the cosmetic counter of a swanky department store, and an anachronistic reference to Sylvia Plath. All the examples are too numerous to mention, but I don’t find them disturbing or distracting even if others seem to.

jaiquai said...

Wiseask, I wasn’t responding to your statements that these anachronisms don’t bother you, you’ve already made that clear. There’s no arguing preference, which is more of a gut reaction than an intellectual one. I was responding to your claim—as I understood it—that correcting the anachronisms would make the characters sound witless and bland, like June Cleaver, that it would detract from the sharpness and wit of the dialog. I don’t know your age, but I also thought I caught a whiff of “This series is made for young audiences to relate to, not old ones, intentionally and freely using songs of the 1960s and idioms of the 21st Century. The whining of older audience members about this choice is irrelevant to the primary aim of the creators, so those detractors really should just shut up.” Might be my interpretation overshoots your actual meaning, but that is what I was responding to as well.

Wiseask said...

You are correct: you don’t know my age and please don’t put your words in my mouth. I have already said clearly and repeatedly that Mrs. Maisal was not made to be historically accurate. If you yearn so badly for television which represents the 50s and early 60s accurately, then watch Leave it to Beaver, because you won’t find it on Mrs. Maisal. If you simply like to gripe about the inaccuracies in Mrs. Maisal, there are plenty of people on this blog to sympathize with you, though I’m not one of them.

jaiquai said...

Look. I acknowledged that my interpretation might be off the mark: That's the opposite of putting words in someone's mouth. It was me saying "Okay, this is what I'm getting" so you could clarify if what I was getting wasn't what you're putting out there. You could state what you meant instead, but rather than doing that, you're asserting that the series' creators didn't want the show to be historically accurate. Would you be willing to cite your source on that, from someone who actually has something to do with putting the show together? All I've seen from the creators is that they do in fact have people on the payroll who try to keep the writing in tune with the times. So unless you have some inside knowledge you're willing to share, could you tell us how you know they're being inaccurate on purpose?

Wiseask said...
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Wiseask said...
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Wiseask said...

Sorry. I had it right the first time.

I think it’s safe to surmise that after 26 episodes over three award-winning critically-acclaimed (and at times anachronistic) seasons, the creators of Mrs. Maisal know what they’re doing. I would hate to think they stumbled upon their success by accident and by now have unintentionally repeated 26 times.

jaiquai said...

Then are the show's creators lying when they say this in a published interview?

"Q: Do you ever do the research and say, “Would a woman in the 50s do this?”

A: We have this delightful researcher who has like twelve masters degrees in everything in the world, and all she gets is like “Did they say *** back in nineteen-fif . . You [Palladino] had a couple where I was like that just feels too modern.

We don’t want to get caught out with that stuff ’cause everyone around us is so good – our production designer, our costumes, our props . . And the last thing I want to do, when everyone is making sure that the piping on the wall and the colors are all correct, is that we’re the ones that come in and throw in a bunch of dialogue that’s not appropriate."

Wiseask said...

Then since the historical inaccuracies exist in virtually every episode, and assuming that what you posted is accurate, you would think they would fire their delightful researcher with twelve Master’s degrees and find someone like yourself with the knowledge and passion to fix their mistakes. But since their “mistakes” have now continued over no less than 26 episodes, we can only conclude that (1) your quotation is inaccurate, or (2) they need a fixer with at least thirteen Master’s degrees, or (3) they fill their episodes with inaccuracies just to irritate you, or (4) they were lying and like their show just the way it has been for the past three seasons. But let’s be generous. As David Mamet said, it’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.

jaiquai said...

None of the possibilities you've laid out square very well with your previous surmise, that the creators know perfectly well what they're doing. I expect they have quietly decided that good enough is good enough despite the flaming pile of inaccuracies, that they've somehow hit on a winning formula anyway, and that at this point they probably shouldn't mess with it. Alternatively, maybe Season 4 will be tighter in some of these areas they're getting critically slammed for. Personally I'm not expecting that, as I was looking for exactly that kind of improvement in Season 2 and if anything it got worse.

Wiseask said...

I agree with you. The show’s a winner and they shouldn’t mess with it.

jaiquai said...

You’re not agreeing with me about that, but maybe with the shows creators.

Unknown said...

Not only would the department stores of the 1950's not have a black cosmetic saleswoman, they wouldn't have had black switchboard operators.And if by some chance they did employ a black woman in a visible position( not a restroom attendant or cleaning woman) she would have been several shades lighter than the actress they hired. This was the era of black women only being considered for positions in anything if they had a Lena Horne or Dorothy Dandridge look. The anachronistic language has been well covered here, so I won't go into that. One other thing though, even though I love the look of the show in terms of design and costuming, even the most well dressed women on the planet didn't have a bag and shoes to match every outfit.Imelda Marcos would envy Midge's commitment to footwear!

Anonymous said...

It did get worse in Season 2 and Season 3,which I'm currently watching. To address earlier comments: no one wants Midge to be June Cleaver or Harriet Nelson or even Lucille Ball or for this show to mirror those shows. But the decades later slang and the too PC for the era casting are jarring.MadMen covered the general attitudes about women, blacks and Jews much better even though it occasionally used anachronistic language. But not nearly as much as this show. That being said, it is very entertaining. You just have to suspend disbelief a lot while watching.