Last night, NBC debuted the Maya Rudolph Show, a take on the classic variety show from the 70s. When you think variety show, you think Donny & Marie, Sonny & Cher, and of course Carol Burnett. So did the former SNL and Bridesmaids star live up to the standards set by her predecessors?
For Maya Rudolph, she’s the person to live up to those standards. As a former Groundlings performer, Rudolph is one of the most talented people to come out of the SNL crew in recent memory, who can sing, dance, act, impress(ions), etc. She seamlessly can do it all. She is the right person for this gig. However, the writing and pacing of the show needs some work. Some of the bits ran a little too long (I’ll circle around to this), while some of the short 1-2 minute bits (rich, self absorbed couple, doctor’s office) fell flat. This may not be the revival of the variety show, but that may be a format that just doesn’t work in today’s media world. In regards to the long segments, when watching some of the Carol Burnett Show, some of the sketches went upwards of 10 minutes. That seems long in today’s short attention span world, but the bits were backed by people like Conway who can provide both hilarious ad-libbed segments, as well as impeccable physical comedy. That just didn’t happen in many of the sketches to save them from the initial comedic premises in the first 1-2 minutes of the bit.
Maybe I sabotaged myself for the debut of The Maya Rudolph Show by spending the afternoon watching old videos of the Carol Burnett Show. Seeing comedic geniuses of Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman go back and forth, cracking each other up in ad-libbed situations, I was prepared for something similar. Seeing that the guest cast for the show included Fred Armisen and Chris Parnell, I was hoping that the cast would stray from the script a little bit, especially knowing Armisen’s penchant for cracking up easily. We didn’t get that at all. The show also suffered from cue-card reading culprits Andy Samberg and Fred Armisen. One person who stood out was Chris Parnell. Parnell should be on the show more often if this does continue to get picked up by NBC. His moment in the opening number (below), while short, was great. Also the lullaby he and Rudolph did as a duet seemed like a classic moment that would be brought back in a highlight reel of the show (if it’s successful).
One thing that we can take away from this is that pilots aren’t perfect. Especially for events like this, pilots try to cram in a ton of content to show what the program COULD be. The hour showed a lot of promise with certain segments like “The Garmyns” and the Lullaby, as well as the big opening number. But, pilots are so heavily scripted, it is hard for the actors to get into a comfortable place to be able to stray from what has been in the works for so long. It was said that based on the ratings, which at this point have not been released, Rudolph would want the show to air every couple of weeks or once a month. I would watch it, happily, because I’m a fan of hers and some of the people who appeared on the show. Rudolph worked extremely hard to make the debut success but there just wasn’t enough to be memorable over time. She is the right person to bring back the variety show, but the variety show format may just not be meant to be brought back in 2014, or ever.