When music supervisor Robin Urdang read the first episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” she knew she was in for a challenge.
The pilot for the one-hour comedy from Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino requested a song by Barbra Streisand, an artist whose work is rarely approved for film, let alone television. She immediately set a standard for Urdang’s working relationship with the Palladinos and the level of communication and adaptability she would need in the Prime Video series.
Urdang, along with Supervising Sound Editor/Re-Recording Mixer Ron Bochar, Production Mixer Mathew Price, and the “Maisel” music and lyric team of Curtis Moore and Thomas Mizer spoke with IndieWire as part of the season’s Consider This series about their Emmy-winning work on indelible comedy and the specific challenges and joys of season 5. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn to episode 4, “Susan,” which features not one but three industrial films: completely staged musical performances to promote the companies’ products that were popular when “Maisel” is set.
“I saw a pattern and told Tom and Curtis privately, ‘I think you’re going to have something to do in Episode 104,'” Urdang said.
The two had watched “Bathtubs on Broadway” with Sherman-Palladino in the past and they were no strangers to the concept, but it was still a blast to create all the songs in just two or three weeks.
“Amy called us into a conference room about three and a half weeks before the first recording session was already scheduled,” Mizer said. “She showed us a set, she showed us drawings and she said, ‘This is trash!’ Did you design for the set and didn’t tell us what it was?
There is no bitterness in Mizer’s tone; after joining the show in the third season, he and Moore knew how to take a chance and recognized the Palladinos by entrusting them with creativity, even on a tight schedule. “Teaming up with one of comedy’s greatest writers, sending him lines… every time the trash girls yell ‘Hoboken!’, every time it made Amy laugh, just every time. And this is the moment I’m most proud of.”
“Private Demolition and Waste Management” continued, with changes made live on set during filming.
“(Sherman-Palladino) was like, ‘I’m not sure, I think there’s a funnier joke and a funnier joke,'” Moore said. “So we had to calm everyone down, and Mathew’s in the back — we were all there around a laptop recording Emily Bergl (who sings) a new lyric that Tom had just written. And if I’m not mistaken, we never repeat it. That’s all. That’s what we recorded earlier, that’s what we lip sync to, and that’s what’s in the final mix. It’s crazy.”
Maisel rarely repeats or re-records dialogue, so Bochar and music editor Annette Kudrak need nearly every audible element of a scene ready when they get to work. The “junk musical” has changed, however, in the two times it appears in the episode, the second of which cuts off between conversations that happen outside of the actual performance.
The hallmark of a great sound team is that their work blends seamlessly with the production, so IndieWire asked the team for their favorite hidden gems of the season. Bochar previously told IndieWire how meticulous “Maisel” was about audience laughter, and the series finale was no exception.
“There’s a laugh in Lenny Bruce’s speech during the last episode of a drunk woman in the background,” he said. “We had the mix locked down except for this laugh. It took nine laughs — nine additional laughs we had to have, to get Amy to finally approve that… everything was wrapped up, (but) we still had to deliver to Amazon. I would like, from my phone, to take a little video and send it. ‘What about this?’ “Okay, that’s fine, but can you only move it four frames later?” Literally that’s what we did over the course of nine days with one laugh to lock down the latest episode.
“As a production blend, I count the number of people talking in a scene to decide how busy the scene is going to be,” Price said. “The Testi-Roastial” (episode 6) was a huge challenge, as was a restaurant dinner for six in episode 4.
“I love large spaces because I think there’s a huge psychological element to your space that you’re actually in,” she said — but large spaces in “Maisel” aren’t all stages. “I always like to sing as live as possible. Why bother with lip-syncing if we can get a really clean live performance? It’s like any dialogue except they’re singing, so why not do it right now? So I put a hair mic in Leslie (Rodriguez Kritzer) who plays Carol Burnett and everything else played. She sang live for that and it worked really well.
Moore noted that he and Mizer wanted all of the episode 4 musicals to sound like they were written by different people, disguising themselves as songwriters of the era as they approached each piece (including Stephen Sondheim, Kander and Ebb). They also wrote the music for the band’s “The Gordon Ford Show,” which in one case meant creating a jazz cover of a mock sitcom theme song, a detail Sherman-Palladino picked up on immediately.
Urdang was looking for Muzak for the episode 2 airport scene between Midge (Rachel Brosnahan) and Lenny (Luke Kirby) when he found “Til There Was You” in a catalog – the same song that plays when the two characters dance together in an earlier season, one of Urdang’s favorite scenes.
“I get goosebumps just thinking about it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Okay, we have to use it at the airport.’ And we did and I actually got emails and texts… it was so incredibly powerful to me, because it meant nothing to most people and no one would remember that, but to me, and obviously Amy and everyone else, it was like a callback whether anyone would understand or not. It was a piece of Muzak, but it meant a lot to me.
Test, rehearsal and test-roastial aside, the “Maisel” sound team had nothing but appreciation for their years of work and for each other, taking every opportunity to appreciate how their departments they work together and collectively improve the overall show. As Midge and his show grew, the sound department stood by him, thriving on five wonderful seasons, no matter how complicated, yet exciting, the job.
“Never let them see you sweat,” Price said. “Even if you panic inside, with a smile, it’s not a problem.”
IndieWire’s Consider This Conversations brings together Emmy-winning cast and creative team members from television’s most prestigious shows to discuss some of the best artwork and craftsmanship in 2023 television production.Follow them all here.And catch up on all the coverage from IndieWire’s Consider This Event Spring 2023.