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

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

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

rudolph
Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph seemed to enjoy themselves.

NBC

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.)

Advertisement

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.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.