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"The Maya Rudolph Show": Bringing Back the Variety Show

Nora Dominick ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Maya Rudolph, Sean Hayes, Fred Armisen and Andy Samberg in The Maya Rudolph Show.
Maya Rudolph, Sean Hayes, Fred Armisen and Andy Samberg in The Maya Rudolph Show. Photo Credit: NBC. 

I don’t know about you but I’ve missed Maya Rudolph. After she departed Saturday Night Live in 2012, I have missed seeing her zany and charismatic personality on my TV every Saturday night. NBC took one of their most underutilized stars and gave her a 1-hour primetime special called The Maya Rudolph Show.

The show was NBC’s attempt to bring the old variety show genre that was beloved by Americans years ago. Rudolph is a perfect choice to revive this extinct TV program. In what felt like a shortened SNL episode, Rudolph showed off her comedy range with the help of Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, Sean Hayes, Kristen Bell and other special guests. Rudolph opened the show with a flashy song and dance number that basically stated that this was her show and she was going to do it right.

Although Rudolph is a veteran to comedy sketches not all the jokes landed. In fact, there were moments when the studio audience didn’t laugh and Rudolph quickly moved into the next joke. One important element of a variety show is to make sure the studio audience is engaged. If the studio audience gets the joke chances are the viewers at home will too. The sketches had a very SNL feel to them which played to Rudolph’s strengths however, they could’ve been executed better.

Andy Samberg, Kristen Bell, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph in The Maya Rudolph Show. Photo Credit:  NBC.
Andy Samberg, Kristen Bell, Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph in The Maya Rudolph Show. Photo Credit: NBC.

My favorite sketch was “The Garmyns.” This had Kristen Bell bringing her fiancé, Andy Samberg, over to meet her parents. After they arrived Bell lets slip that her parents are the voices of GPS systems. Rudolph and Armisen played the roles of her parents perfectly. The comedic timing was perfect and it was relatable to the audience. This sketch had me laughing. Rudolph and Armisen shined and I hope if the show becomes a regular thing, “The Garmyns” will make a comeback.

The other sketches throughout the night were funny but not memorable. The first sketch after the opening monologue shows Bell, Hayes and Rudolph writing the new music for “Frozen 2.” This was funny and exhibited Bell’s incredible singing voice (I mean where has she been hiding it all this time?) however, the Frozen jokes seem a bit overdone. If this sketch premiered about five months ago, I think it would’ve been a highlight of the variety show.

The main goal of the hour was to bring back a variety show, which I think is a good idea. When TV began in the 1940s, variety shows seamlessly blended together vaudeville and radio. NBC’s Texaco Star Theater starring Milton Berle was a classic and had audiences wanting more. Berle set the tone for other variety show hosts like Ed Sullivan.

Sean Hayes, Maya Rudolph and  Kristen Bell in The Maya Rudolph Show. Photo Credit: NBC.
Sean Hayes, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Bell in The Maya Rudolph Show. Photo Credit: NBC.

Then in the 60s and 70s, TV realized that variety shows were a hit and basically everyone had one, from Carol Burnett to the Smothers Brothers to Sonny and Cher. Variety Shows were the money makers and had the biggest viewership. However like every good thing over exposure caused viewers to become disinterested and eventually the variety show genre died.

For The Maya Rudolph Show, NBC took a tip from their past successes and realized that the right host and proper marketing can make the variety show a win again. To me, The Carol Burnett Show is what every variety show should strive to be. Burnett was a comedic genius but realized viewers also liked seeing her. She opened and closed each show as herself which, allowed her to connect to the audience. She made the show fun for not only for the viewers but her guests. My favorite part about The Carol Burnett Show was that even though it wasn’t live mistakes and adlibs were kept in. I think that’s what made it so exciting for me as a viewer; I wanted to see what Burnett would do next.

With The Maya Rudolph Show, I think NBC has the formula right. They have the lovable and comedic host and the branding is perfect. Anyone who is acquainted with Rudolph know that she can act and be funny. All she needs is the right sketches, guests and opening to make it a hit. I think this first episode was a great start and I urge NBC to give her a few more episodes to work out the kinks. The 2014 audience will be engaged if you give them the right material to watch.

Maya Rudolph, Craig Robinson and Kristen Bell in The Maya Rudolph Show. Photo Credit: NBC.
Maya Rudolph, Craig Robinson and Kristen Bell in The Maya Rudolph Show. Photo Credit: NBC.

One thing that might make the variety show interesting for a 2014 audience would be to make it live. I think the excitement of watching actors perform on the spot with no re-do is extremely entertaining and current audiences enjoy it. That’s why Vine and YouTube are so popular. People like watching other people mess up or do something funny.  I think if a variety show was to go live, Rudolph is the perfect person to captain the ship. Rudolph might need to take some cues/pointers from great hosts like Neil Patrick Harris and Jimmy Fallon in order to make this variety show a slam dunk though.

I think NBC is off to the right start. They have all the right elements now it’s time for a better execution! The Maya Rudolph Show is a great starting point to launch back into the variety genre with. I think with a few more episodes viewers could see Rudolph flourish as a variety show host.

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