May 15, 2019
The Maya Rudolph Show: Close, But No Cigar
Oh, Maya Rudolph show. We had such high, high hopes that your hour-long one-off variety show special would be the dawning of a new era of variety shows, but alas, it is not to be. Don’t get us wrong, Maya. You were adorable. From the intro song with not one, not two, but three dresses to sporting an attitude more silly than sexy, Maya had the vintage variety show vibe on lock.
The real problem was the Saturday Night Live-heavy cast of guest stars. While Kristen Bell was the lead guest and Sean Hayes took on a sort of Elton John meets Sonny Bono role, SNL’s Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, and Chris Parnell were all in the house and the whole thing just ended up feeling like a prime time version of SNL, which no one really wants or needs.
With the exception of musical guest star Janelle Monae (!!!), the opening number was really the highlight of the show, as Rudolph sang a song about much power she had, complete with wind machine, making Sean Hayes play keytar, bringing out the Laker Girls, and getting a pony. An actual pony.
Kristen Bell showed up to write the sequel to Frozen, Frozen 2, complete with Bell singing about how cold she was, Maya singing about how hot she was, literally, and Sean Hayes singing about how hot Maya was, metaphorically. Unfortunately, that was the best use of the pixie-ish Bell, who otherwise got relegated to the subpar sketches, like the nadir of the show, a skit about the Garmin (as in GPS) family.
Were you cringing? We were cringing. Other skits are less terrible, but never end up feeling like anything but an SNL reject. Here’s the point the show seems to be missing: the great variety shows were wonderful at getting people out of their comfort zone — think Roger Moore having to sing “If I Could Talk to the Animals” on The Muppet Show
…or Vincent Price and Joel Grey getting roped into an unending telephone gag on The Carol Burnett show.
We like watching famous people be made to feel ridiculous, or to behave in silly unexpected ways, and a good variety show can do that. Using people that are famous for sketch comedy to do sketch comedy ends up as…sketch comedy.
The show got the most mileage out of its musical numbers, including an extended riff on “One Note Samba” that Maya has tried to turn into a paean to herself, but it’s irretrievably wrecked when Andy Samberg doesn’t know how to spell her name.
In spite of its shortcomings, I’m still pulling for NBC to pick up this show for a longer trial run, because America is in dire need of a variety show, but this one will only work if Rudolph is willing to cut loose her SNL alums and take her chances with a rotating cast of guest stars. Keep Sean Hayes, because he’s what every variety show needs: a faithful sidekick that will occasionally steal the spotlight by out-hamming (and in Hayes’s case, out-gaying) everyone else who comes on stage.
Janelle Monae could be the musical guest for every episode, though. I’m cool with that.