I will have to admit to a small degree of trepidation when I tuned in to this show Tuesday night. The prime-time variety show seems to have become a thing of the past, and perhaps for a good reason, yet here NBC was, making another attempt. Adding to my apprehension was my memory of a past NBC attempt to give Maya Rudolph a variety show by herself in 2014. Let me see, how do I say this without hurting anybody’s feelings? It stunk on ice.
All that said, I have always enjoyed a good variety show, starting from my boyhood, when I watched the excellent show Steve Allen put on (again with NBC) before finally getting crushed by the far-less-talented Ed Sullivan. With that in mind, I keep hoping for a return to the art form. Well, as your Morse code enthusiasts might say, my hopes must have been dotted last night, because they certainly weren’t dashed. Before I started to work on this article, I nosed around a bit and found there were a lot of nay-sayers, eager to pan the show because it seemed to be nothing more than a prime-time rehash of Saturday Night Live, like that, in and of itself, is grounds for criticism.
To be sure, just about everybody on the show had put in at least some time with SNL. The two co-hosts, Martin Short and Maya Rudolph were long-time SNL regulars, although I don’t think their time as cast members overlapped. In addition, just about all the guests, including Keenan Thompson (actually a series regular), Jimmy Fallon, Miley Cyrus, Kate McKinnon, Steve Martin and Tom Hanks had put in some time with that show. We even learned that two of next week’s guests will be Tina Fey and Steve Martin, who themselves are not exactly strangers to that late-night production. Still, just because Maya and Marty’s show uses a lot of the same people, that does not make it a rehash. The material was new and fresh.
Short brought out his Jiminy Glick character again, but it was an entirely new skit, which would have been better if the players had done a bit less cracking up at their own material. Even so, it was funny. And, yes, Ms. Rudolph used much the same accent she employed to portray Donatella Versace in her SNL days, but it was for a different character, going off in a somewhat different direction. And if Kenan Thompson went back into his Steve Harvey disguise, it was not to play the host of Family Feud.
As far as the comedy part of the show, I thought the skit about a dotty old grandmother (Short) trying to read Goodnight Moon to her granddaughter (Cyrus) ran a little longer than it needed to, but that hardly prompted me to go searching for rotten produce to throw at my set. Otherwise, it was excellent.
In one aspect, Maya and Marty far exceeded its late-night supposed counterpart. The two musical acts were different from one another, and both were entertaining. For the first interlude, Miley Cyrus did two very different songs that somehow fit together very well. She was joined in the second song by Maya Rudolph, which led me to wonder something. As long as you are finding work for so many SNL players, why not throw Vanessa Bayer into the number? As you may recall, she made her mark doing dead-on imitations of Miley Cyrus. The other musical interlude was a production from the Broadway show Shufflin’ Along, which served to remind us that singing and acting are not the only performance arts. There is also this thing called dancing.
I guess the biggest difference between the musical interludes on this show and the two that typically pop up on SNL is that, instead of using the time for a bathroom break or to take the clothes out of the dryer or something of that order, I actually stayed in my seat and managed to absorb some entertainment. Who could ask for anything more?
Maya and Marty in Manhattan, NBC, May 31, 2016