MAID. One of the best Netflix series ever
Maid pushed me into the seat. Literally. When I started the first episode, I couldn’t tear myself away from the TV for the next few hours. The talented cast, led by the fantastic and charismatic Margaret Qualley, took me through ten episodes of this moving story about a young mother trying to live with dignity, alternating between laughter and emotions.
This production, which premiered on Netflix in 2021, is a loose adaptation of Stephanie Land’s novel “Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive,” based on her own experiences. This lengthy title broadly summarizes the plot of the miniseries. In the middle of the night, the main character Alex (Margaret Qualley, perhaps best known for the famous car scene with Brad Pitt in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) escapes with her two-year-old daughter Maddy (Rylea Nevaeh Whittet) from the trailer she shares with her boyfriend Sean (Nick Robinson). Alex flees from the psychological violence inflicted upon her by her alcoholic partner. From then on, the young woman is on her own, and the social welfare system and life itself constantly throw obstacles in her path. Trying to support herself and her daughter, she takes a job as a cleaning lady. The beginnings won’t be easy – Alex will have to pay for cleaning supplies and gasoline herself to get to work, and her first employer, the wealthy and frustrated Regina (Anika Noni Rose), won’t pay her. Sean will persistently urge Alex to return, and her mentally unstable, self-centered mother Paula (absolutely brilliant in the role, Andie MacDowell, who is also Margaret Qualley’s real-life mother) will be completely blind to her daughter’s difficult situation.
Maid is primarily a story of severe poverty in a country where the “American dream” forms the foundation of its inhabitants’ identity, according to the idea of “from rags to riches.” The belief that anyone can succeed if they just work hard enough is a fantasy in modern America, a country full of contradictions and socioeconomic inequalities. In this respect, Maid undoubtedly joins Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland a film also based on a book – Jessica Bruder’s reportage – which we had the chance to see on the big screen not long ago.
The series by Molly Smith Metzler (producer of Shameless; writer of thirteen episodes of Orange Is the New Black) tells a story that contradicts the ideal of the “American dream.” Alex must confront the absurdities of the bureaucratic machinery, traveling through women’s shelters and moldy foster homes, all the while scrubbing floors in the homes of the wealthy for a paltry wage. When Alex takes a step forward, she immediately takes two steps back – this chronic uncertainty about tomorrow, the lack of security and stability that keeps the protagonist awake at night, affects us as well, making Alex’s fate feel so authentic and impossible to look away from.
Credibility is also lent to the series by its multidimensional characters, especially Alex’s dysfunctional relatives. None of them – neither the abusive Sean, who hides layers of love, nor Alex’s father, who used to use physical violence against her mother and now wants to be a caring grandfather to little Maddy – are painted in black and white. Even the irresponsible and self-centered Paula is seen at times through the tender eyes of her daughter, as a fundamentally lonely and defenseless person.
Maid often strikes a comedic tone, and these numerous comic reliefs only emphasize the bittersweet tone of the production. Like when, during a court hearing, the bewildered Alex, instead of hearing the lawyer’s actual words, hears a monotonous babble of repeated single word (“law, law, law”). The production readily employs such original solutions, such as “live” countdowns on the screen, showing Alex’s disappearing money spent on gas, food, or fees.
Those who have read Land’s book may accuse Molly Smith Metzler of sugarcoating the writer’s story, selling Netflix viewers an optimistic version of Alex’s journey. Regardless of this criticism, Maid is, above all, a touching image focused on aspects that cinema often doesn’t address – breaking free from the cycle of psychological violence, ending toxic relationships with both the wrong partner and one’s own parents, and escaping poverty. Maid is a feel-good TV series that stands out as one of the best shows on Netflix.