TV Review: ‘Maya and Marty’

Understandably, entertainment executives keep trying to make the charismatic “Saturday Night Live” veteran Maya Rudolph a bigger star. Less understandable are an array of efforts to revive the variety show, a genre of entertainment perhaps left best to prior eras in TV history.

Let’s face it, variety shows thrived when viewers didn’t have a lot of other options, but now anyone with a TV, smartphone or laptop has hundreds of different kinds of programs at his or her disposal every minute of the day. It’s easy to create one’s own grab bag of entertainment — the networks don’t have to do it for us.

And yet they keep trying, especially NBC, which aired “The Maya Rudolph Show” in 2014 and cast the actress as a talk-show diva in the ever-morphing sitcom “Up All Night” a few years earlier. Last year’s variety offering, “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris,” flopped, perhaps because it continually reeked of flop sweat. Now NBC is back at it with “Maya and Marty,” but if its debut episode was supposed to convince America that variety shows truly deserve to re-establish themselves on the entertainment scene, well, it didn’t successfully make that case. 

Part of the problem was that it’s hard to figure out why Martin Short and Rudolph were shoehorned into the same program. They didn’t spend much time together on screen, aside from a reasonably entertaining opening skit starring Tom Hanks, and a couple moments of chatter at the start and end of the hourlong program.

One trait the performers have in common is a tendency to play big, brassy, larger-than-life characters, but all too often, the writing for them wasn’t nearly as sharp as it needed to be. The end result was often a lot of bombast and noise but not too many laughs. “Maya and Marty,” in many ways, is a ham sandwich with an extra helping of ham.

Friends got to mug for the camera too: Steve Martin stopped by briefly, Miley Cyrus (an alumni of another variety-adjacent show starring Bill Murray, Rudolph and others) sang a tune, and Kenan Thompson was just one “SNL” veteran who stopped by. In a show that already had possibly too many commercial tie-ins and product placements, Thompson did a Steve Harvey impression in a skit that mocked the network’s “Little Big Shots” while also not so stealthily promoting it. In that parody, Short and Jimmy Fallon played a set of twins who engaged in toilet humor while offering up painfully overwrought overacting.

The best that can be said of “Maya and Marty” is that although that particular skit made me long for the sweet release of death, not all of it was that painful.

Hanks was a good sport about his heroic image in that opening skit, in which he played an astronaut who’s actually a secret slacker. A later bit that starred Rudolph as a ditzy, stone-faced Melania Trump veered a little close to her classic Donatella Versace impersonation, but it was reasonably amusing.

But most of the sketches in “Maya and Marty” came off like uninspired “SNL” cast-offs, the kind of thing that either airs ten minutes before the show ends or gets cut after the dress rehearsal.

A pre-taped showcase for Short’s obsequious interviewer character, Jiminy Glick, had him interviewing Larry David, and that featured a few spontaneous, laugh-out-loud moments, but like many of the other sketches, it ran too long. As for another of the hour’s low points, at this point, parodying Ken Burns’ documentary style, the subject of one interminable skit, feels like shooting long-dead fish in a very shallow barrel. Savion Glover and the cast of “Shuffle Along,” who closed the show in a rousing fashion, were a sight for sore eyes: The kind of clatter produced by their tap-dancing was intentional, precise and highly enjoyable, in marked contrast to much of what preceded it.

Every variety show is going to have some dead spots, but what’s disconcerting about the first episode of “Maya and Marty” is that the team behind the show thought that these sketches were the strongest ones they had in their arsenal. If these bits were the pick of litter, I can only imagine what’s on tap for next week. But I would prefer not to.

TV Review: 'Maya and Marty'

(Series; NBC, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.)

Crew: Executive producer, Lorne Michaels; producers, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Dave Becky, Marc Gurwitz; head writers, Mikey Day, Matt Roberts, Bryan Tucker; director, Alex Rudzinski.

More TV

  • Kamala Harris

    Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Face Rematch in Next Democratic Debate

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to square off again in the second debate among Democratic hopefuls vying for their party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election CNN, which will broadcast the next round of debates on July 30 and 31, televised a draw Thursday night that decided [...]

  • Jon Wax

    Jon Wax Joins Amazon Studios as Head of Genre Programming

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming Jon Wax is joining Amazon Studios as its head of genre programming, Variety has learned. Wax will take up the position recently vacated by Sharon Tal Yguado. He had joined YouTube in August 2017, heading up drama, unscripted and current programming for YouTube’s premium channel. Prior to that, he had [...]

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    HBO's Return to Emmy Nomination Dominance May Be Short-Lived (Column)

    As Hollywood braces for the coming streaming wars, HBO’s huge Emmy nomination haul this week sent a new salvo Netflix’s way: The streamer may have the volume, but HBO still has the goods. At least this year. HBO’s record-breaking 137 nominations came on the strength of just 23 programs — led, of course, by “Game [...]

  • Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer

    Starz Nears Realignment: Why Lionsgate Won't Hire a CEO to Replace Chris Albrecht

    Nearly six months after Starz CEO Chris Albrecht exited in February, Lionsgate brass is moving closer to a revamp of the premium TV network’s executive structure. According to insiders, at least one thing is clear: Albrecht is not expected to be replaced as CEO. Instead, Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer is taking a more active [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content