I was late to one of the best Netflix shows I've ever seen. And as someone who writes about this all for a living, that's kinda disappointing. But this show was so good I had a hard time putting it down, even though it doesn't feel designed to be binge-watched.
Yes, some Netflix shows need time to breathe between episodes, so you can take in what's happened. So you can process everything that's gone on. And Maid (which is adapted from Stephanie Land's 2019 memoir) is definitely one of those shows.
I almost felt like recommending Maid (an eight-episode miniseries) would be a bit outdated, as it came out in October 2021. But the more people I talk to about this show, the more I realize that it practically went under the radar for many a Netflix subscriber. Or at least people didn't give it a chance.
That should change, though. Maid, which is more than just a star-making series, may be one of the best Netflix shows ever. And its star Margaret Qualley just got an Emmy nomination for her work on it. So, let's dive into why I'm so mad about Maid.
Why I love Maid
Out of the gate, Maid gives little context, only urgency. Late at night, in utter darkness Alex (Qualley) needs to leave her husband Sean (Nick Robinson) and take her daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) with her. The scene unfurls almost like she's a prisoner sneaking out of an enemy base. And we soon realize that's the truth.
Sean, angry, pounds on the car as Alex leaves, the first sign that she won't have an easy go of things. Seeking help from social services, and her friends and family family, Alex is bombarded with a lot of terms she doesn't understand while people take Sean's side. Even Alex's mother Paula (Andie MacDowell, Qualley's actual mother) isn't on her side. But Alex does what she can to make things almost work, getting a job a local maid service.
Basically homeless, Alex is living out of her car until that goes wrong. Fortunately, she finds home and help at a domestic violence shelter. She even meets Nate, a single dad who wants to help, but he really wants a relationship too. Something Alex isn't ready for.
Throughout Maid, we the series breaks the fourth wall a bit to emphasize the chaos of Alex's situation. When legalese she doesn't understand is presented to her, it's audibly modified to the point where you might remember the teacher from The Peanuts.
More difficulties reside at work, where Alex's boss Yolanda (Tracy Vilar) is hard-nosed and holds grudges. Regina (Anika Noni Rose), one of Alex's extremely wealthy clients, often seems like she could help Alex out, but Regina is going through too much trouble of her own.
All the while, Alex has to parent her own mother, Paula. Yes, her increasingly erratic mom is dating a creep named Basil (Toby Levins), and is a danger to herself and others.
While all of this sounds exhausting (and it can certainly be an emotionally draining show), it's also an amazing series. Maid, I'd argue, is a perfect show. Qualley's performance is award-worthy, and so is MacDowell's. It's a shame only the former got an Emmy nomination (where she's up against a murderer's row including Toni Collette, Sarah Paulson and Amanda Seyfried — nominated for her role as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout).
Why the critics love Maid
As seen by its 94% Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab) score, critics love Maid. Alison Herman at The Ringer (opens in new tab) wrote about one of the best aspects of the series, as "Maid walks a razor-thin line where Sean is concerned: condemning without villainizing, explaining without excusing. It’s a mix of sensitive writing and remarkable performance that conveys one of the hardest truths of chronic abuse."
Similarly, Lucy Mangan at the Guardian (opens in new tab) writes that Maid "is also good at showing the insidious forms and effects of emotional abuse (more rarely depicted on screen than physical abuse is) without insisting that Alex be an ever-broken Victim-with-a-capital-V."
Inkoo Kang at the Washington Post (opens in new tab) praises Qualley and MacDowell's collaborative work, writing "It's the mother-daughter bond - and strain - that shines brightest. Qualley and MacDowell are each other's best scene partners."
Judy Berman for TIME Magazine (opens in new tab) wrote "In taking care to show us complete people rather than dusting off the old clichés, Maid stands a chance of changing that."
Kristen Lopez at indieWire (opens in new tab) backs up all the hype, saying "We need more stories like this and, hands down, Maid deserves all the acclaim it gets."
Outlook: Should you watch Maid tonight?
While I think everyone should watch Maid, it is a show that may hit too close to home for some. Those with experience with domestic violence and gaslighting may find Maid to be too real.
Just know that Maid probably can't be easily binge-watched. Each of Maid's eight hour-long episodes had me wanting to take a break to do anything else. It's just as tense as Hulu's The Bear, but in a different way.
That said, in a moment where Netflix seems all about Stranger Things, true crime and weird stuff like Snowflake Mountain, shows like Maid prove that the big red streaming machine has some truly brilliant gems you need to see.
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