‘The Maya Rudolph Show’ Fails to Revive the Variety Show Genre

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If anyone has the ability to bring back the variety show, it’s Maya Rudolph. That much is true. Last night, NBC aired its attempt to revive a genre that died decades ago (aside from a few halfhearted and truly terrible attempts here and there), and the network smartly put Maya Rudolph at the helm. She’s the right woman for the job, seamlessly transitioning from big, rousing musical numbers to smaller comedy sketches, but even so, the question The Maya Rudolph Show left in my mind was: do we need to bring back variety shows?

The show wasn’t a surprising move by NBC, because lately the network has been obsessed with both nostalgia and cheesy kitsch. Just think of Hollywood Game Night, which is reminiscent of classic game shows and basically just exists so we can watch celebrities hang out with each other. That was a big part of The Maya Rudolph Show, too: celebrities hanging out, trying to replicate something that was popular before most of its target demographic was born.

To put it bluntly, The Maya Rudolph Show was a mess. It was certainly entertaining at times, even occasionally laugh-out-loud funny. It was a great showcase for Rudolph’s many talents, as well as a reminder of who her funny, famous friends are — many Saturday Night Live alums made an appearance, as well as familiar faces like Sean Hayes, Kristen Bell, and Craig Robinson. Despite this, The Maya Rudolph Show wasn’t very memorable. It’s a shame, because Rudolph is fantastic (she was a hero of mine back on SNL, so I was really crossing my fingers for this to work), and she’s yet to find a post-SNL gig that really works for her. Up All Night wasn’t a good fit, and this variety show didn’t work out either.

There was nothing spectacularly terrible about The Maya Rudolph Show. Some songs went too long and some sketches fell flat, but nothing too egregious happened. As a whole, though, it was boring, full of shoddy writing, and not worth talking about the next morning. It’s hard not to compare the show to Saturday Night Live. Rudolph even mentioned her seven-year tenure on that show in her first song. Chris Parnell, Fred Armisen, and, of course, Andy Samberg were all over the episode (Samberg, weirdly, was a lot more tolerable here than he was as last Saturday night’s host). There were SNL-like sketches, such as an uninspired game show parody and a pretty funny bit with Rudolph and Armisen as the voices of GPS (Rudolph’s impression was spot-on). The show was also broken up by a musical act, Janelle Monáe. Watching all this, I couldn’t help but wonder why we needed this variety show if we already had Saturday Night Live. Both are strictly average; the only real difference is Rudolph’s welcome involvement in this one.

That was basically the entire draw of the show: Maya Rudolph. She sings and dances her ass off throughout but also reins herself in with necessary — she let Parnell take the lead in a funny lullaby song, barely moved in a dance-off with Samberg — and is consistently funny and entertaining even when the material isn’t. But if this show ends up becoming a weekly series (a possibility, depending on the ratings and reception) and the writing doesn’t improve, will Maya Rudolph be enough to save the variety show? I have faith that she can do it, but I’m not sure I want her to.