Maya Rudolph’s Show Was Sporadically Amusing, Not at All Timely

Slate's Culture Blog
May 20 2014 10:03 AM

Maya Rudolph’s Show Was Sporadically Amusing, Not at All Timely

Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph seemed to enjoy themselves.


Twenty years from now, when a beloved, multitalented, professional funny lady gets a TV special doing whatever it is she most wants to do, perhaps the once-beloved, no-longer-common format she will long to revive is … the pop-up video. I’m teasing, but The Maya Rudolph Show, a one-hour variety special that aired Monday night on NBC and that Rudolph hopes will become a series, was suffused with nostalgia for the type of singing, dancing, sketch-comedy format—think The Carol Burnett Show—that doesn’t much exist outside the bastardized confines of award shows these days, and which, on the strength of last night’s pleasant, listless example, maybe needs reviving even less than pop-up video.

Rudolph, it almost goes without saying, is an appealing, talented performer with a great voice best known for her seven-year tenure on SNL, most memorably sending up a swath of divas. The Maya Rudolph Show, however, eschewed all impersonations. She began her show in full Oscars-opening-song style: self-aware rhyming lyrics, multiple costume changes, back-up dancers, a pony. The theme was that Rudolph finally had “my show,” where she could do anything she damn well pleased, from dancing with the Laker girls to inviting SNL alums Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell—as well as Kristen Bell and Sean Hayes—to tag along as her merry band of players. (SNL alums’ penchant for working with each other, and only each other, is starting to tip over from cute to stifling.)


What followed was a sporadically amusing, not at all timely mishmash of sketches and songs. There were skits about parents who voice GPS systems and doctors with vocal tics. Parnell sang a sweet lullaby to his new daughter. There was another song about the spelling of Maya’s name. Janelle Monáe performed. The timeliest sketch of the night had Rudolph and Bell showcasing their pipes while making up words to the sequel for Frozen, Frozen Again. Rudolph and Samberg had a dance-off, with Samberg costumed like he was straight out of Saturday Night Fever, which was not the most anachronistic joke of the evening. That honor went to a song set on an old-timey boardwalk, where Craig Robinson’s nut seller argued with Kristen Bell’s clam vendor about which beachside snack was best. The conclusion, arrived at by Rudolph, was to eat clams and nuts at once, a combination that Robinson greeted with a “Yowza!” I greeted it with a “Huh?”

All of this may sound weird, but—if only! The show was pleasant without being particularly funny or memorable, odd without being urgent or edgy, scattershot without taking any big swings. There was one sketch in which Rudolph and Armisen played horrible rich people with a butler and no memory they had a kid. Wearing enormous sunglasses, Rudolph told the butler, “I can’t look at you right now, because I’m not looking at things that are not symmetrical right now.” Later she refused to say if she wanted red or white wine, because she was too busy thinking about whether to get her dog an iPhone, even though she didn’t have a dog. This bit didn’t seem to go over well with the audience, but it was promisingly strange and spiky, a bit that didn’t quite work but at least gave Rudolph an opportunity to showcase her talent for spoofing the spoiled. Should the show get picked up, more of that please.

Willa Paskin is Slate’s television critic.


Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

What Hillary Clinton’s Iowa Remarks Reveal About Her 2016 Fears

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

John Oliver Pleads for Scotland to Stay With the U.K.

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter


Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police

The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Here’s Why College Women Don’t Take Rape Allegations to the Police
  News & Politics
Frame Game
Sept. 15 2014 5:13 PM Hard Knocks I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 5:26 PM Robin Thicke’s Bizarre “Blurred Lines” Deposition Is Both Unflattering and Convenient
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.