In the opening number of Maya Rudolph's self-titled variety show, which aired last night on NBC, Rudolph didn't pretend she was doing anything but sticking to an old format. In fact, she declared it. "There'll be cool special guests, and comedy sketches, outdated jokes that nobody catches," she sang as a dancer held a cue card with the words "that's what she said" on it. The beginning of the show featured three costume changes, the Laker girls, a flying Chris Parnell, a "gratuitous key change," and a moon upon which Rudolph sat for the confetti-filled final moment.
Does the kind of semi-wholesome spectacle Rudolph had in mind fit in today's media landscape? Probably not. But Rudolph knew that, so she made the show a self-conscious throwback.
Though, yes, one sketch—"The Garmyns" with Rudolph and Fred Armisen as parents who have the voices of GPS navigation system—focused on technology, most seemed to be plucked out of another era. There was one about a Password-like game show, and another with a Saturday Night Fever-style dance off. Another spoofed a 1940s movie and featured Kristen Bell and Craig Robinson as boardwalk vendors who dueled with innuendo. She shilled for "Pam's Clams" and he advertised "Dee's Nuts." It was cornily dirty, but intentionally so.
In The Guardian yesterday, Brian Moylan wrote that bringing back the variety show, which network execs have tried over the years, is "like AT&T trying to revive the fax machine. They’re both relics of the past that have been replaced with something better, cheaper and more modern." Moylan isn't wrong, and the show itself did little to prove otherwise. Though the format of a variety show seems perfect to be broken up and spat out on YouTube, nothing Rudolph did was particularly viral. The show was more about performance than about creating Internet-ready bits.
And yet! I want to see more of it. I want to see Rudolph create a company of players. Some of her buddies that appeared on the show this time around—the likes of Bell and Andy Samberg—have jobs that probably prevent them doing too many more of these within a year. But what's Sean Hayes up to since his sitcom got canceled? His Broadway-ready style works much better in this context than Fred Armisen's understated brand of weirdness. And Chris Parnell joining Rudolph to sing a lullaby to their kids at the close of the show was easily a highlight. These two could become the Harvey Korman and Tim Conway to Rudolph's Carol Burnett.
It's unclear whether or not they'll get the chance. According to Vulture's Joe Adalian the show got a good 2.2 rating in the 18 to 49 demographic, buoyed by its Voice lead-in. Even if it this is the only airing of The Maya Rudolph Show, at least we had one bold, nostalgic, odd night. For the most part, it was fun, and I couldn't have asked for anything more.