Maya Rudolph, we’ve missed you. On Monday, NBC took one of its brightest (if recently underutilized) stars and let her shine all over a studio soundstage, likely in hopes that Rudolph might be the right person to bring back the long-extinct variety show format. Others have tried and failed, but the Saturday Night Live alum had plenty of momentum heading into the one-off premiere of The Maya Rudolph Show.
Now that Rudolph’s debut comedy hour has aired, though, the question looms: Was her brand of song-and-skit enough to pull the metaphorical sword from the stone? Or, at the very least, should NBC grab hold of a good thing and give Rudolph a chance to explore this concept further?
Mostly, I’d say yes. Aided by special guest stars Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, and Sean Hayes (as well as a handful of cameos), Rudolph was a charismatic and entertaining guide to, well, Maya Rudolph. The actress’s charm is the main star here — so if you loved Rudolph’s randomly accented characters and minimalist dancing on SNL, you’ll love it again. If she never floated your comedy boat in the first place, there may not have been anything new here to convince you otherwise.
Still, the hour moved swiftly and had its share of belly laughs. At its core, The Maya Rudolph Show played like an extended SNL episode (with appropriately saccharine Muppet Show undertones) that did its best to highlight Rudolph’s range. Imagine a night of SNL that actually played up each of its host’s strengths. In that regard, this variety hour successfully reminded us of Rudolph’s joy and fearlessness, as well as her adroit comic timing. (Also, how about that vibrato?)
Even as certain punchlines failed to land with the live audience, Rudolph carried on as though they had. By doing so, she largely managed to overcome the most glaring obstacle facing any variety show: occasional awkward silence. That’s why Rudolph deserves a few more episodes. A longer run would let Rudolph find an even happier groove, with new guest stars, a more varied sketch slate, and the confidence to know that she has all the pieces for a successful genre reboot — she just needs to assemble them.