As networks like NBC confront the daunting swell of original content in the ever-expanding online morass that is “Peak TV,” they’ve increasingly looked to the past in an effort to define their present. How else can you explain Maya & Marty, a bizarre curio that rolled out on Tuesday night, seemingly straight out of the Eisenhower era? It’s the latest effort to revive the TV variety show, an old school mix of comedy sketches and song-and-dance numbers that defined the earliest days of the medium but now survives only in the form of Saturday Night Live. Maya & Marty is being pitched as must-see TV, an event chock-full of celebrities that simply has to be watched live, DVRs be damned. But at its best, it feels like a copy of a copy: Tuesday Night Live, if you will.
In the online age, you could be forgiven for thinking that the primary appeal of a variety series would be its ability to offer something topical and relevant—to instantly react to news and pop culture. Maya & Marty seems to be aiming for none of that. It has two veteran stars of sketch comedy as its hosts, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, and its ensemble of recurring players and guest stars are ripped right from SNL: Kenan Thompson, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon. The frequent SNL hosts Tom Hanks and Miley Cyrus even popped in for episode one, which was shot in the very same studio SNL uses on Saturdays. The show’s second sketch saw Thompson revive the Steve Harvey impression he’s deployed multiple times on … well, you get the idea. In episode one, Maya & Marty felt less like an essential piece of live television and more like a patchwork of material from Saturday Night Live’s cutting-room floor.