With Saturday Night Live in reruns for the summer and the failure of last fall’s Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, NBC is attempting to get back into the primetime variety show arena to bridge that gap until SNL returns. The network had previously aired a one-off variety special starring SNL vet Maya Rudolph, which was a very mixed bag in quality, but NBC and Lorne Michaels felt there was enough good stuff there to try again. The twist was to add comedy legend Martin Short into the mix with his SCTV background a good enough reason to include him on the show.
The premiere had some ups and down, and while the studio audience seemed to be having a great time (and one must assume there was some canned laughter added to spice things up), the show had a few mild laughs, a couple of head scratching moments, and a terrific final act. Let’s look at how the sketches played out.
The show kicked off with a filmed bit starring Tom Hanks as an astronaut preparing to head back into space, but his wife (Rudolph) kept finding him in his car parked on the side of the road and then in a parking lot with his odd friend (Short) in the back seat. With one terrible excuse after another, the husband finally gets to space … or does he? Not a real laugher, this one, but the final payoff was humorous.
Episode 1 Monologue
Maya and Marty make their first appearance as hosts of the show with the general introductions and patting of the backs and overview of what to expect, with the best moment coming from next week’s guest who was traveling and could not be with them for the premiere … even though he was right there on stage.
Little Big Shots
For the first “live” sketch (the show is taped but is as close to live as one can get), featured cast member Kenan Thompson got to pull his Steve Harvey impression out of summer storage to poke fun at his new hit reality/variety show on NBC. Short and guest Jimmy Fallon played a pair of obnoxious, adolescent twins with some crazy teeth, but they seemed to think the sketch was funnier than it actually was.
The show stayed away from SNL-style political humor, but Maya did try to milk a few laughs out of Donald Trump’s wife Melania, hawking her new obsession, edible diamonds. Rudolph worked the crazy accent, but things took an unexpectedly funny turn as Kate McKinnon joined her as Heidi Cruz, making Melania say specific words for a laugh. Rudolph, however, had a mouth full of her edible diamonds and nearly choked on them, causing both actresses to crack up a bit. It was funny and added to the live vibe.
Jiminy Glick with Larry David
Short got to dust off one of his classic creations, Hollywood gossip columnist Jiminy Glick who had a one-on-one sit-down with Larry David. Short was firing on all cylinders in what was obviously an unscripted bit with David seeming to have no idea what questions he was going to be asked. Things took an uncomfortable turn when Glick started making Jew jokes, and the two started throwing candy at each other, but David seemed to enjoy it all in the end, and it was one of the funnier bits of the evening.
I can’t say I’m the biggest Miley Cyrus fan, but the girl does have some pipes on her. As this week’s musical guest, Cyrus channeled her inner Leonard Cohen and turned out a spooky, powerful version of “I’m Your Man” then segued into Peggy Lee’s “I’m a Woman” with some help from Maya. The duet was okay, but Miley’s solo at the top of the medley was pretty strong.
The War In Words
I have a feeling I’ve seen this bit before, but it was the one sketch that really made me laugh. The premise is that a Union soldier (Mikey Day) is conversing with his rather dim wife by mail, sending her details about life on the battlefield while she responds with one word or sentence. When he asks for a photo, she sends him one of her with Abraham Lincoln with no context whatsoever, and then gets another cryptic letter from Lincoln himself. It was all very funny and ended with a good punchline.
With no context whatsoever — I’m not familiar at all with the children’s book — I had no idea why Short, Rudolph and Cyrus were wearing bunny ears. I did look up the artwork for the book and now it makes sense. I assume Short was playing the grandmother trying to get her grandchild to sleep, and they were constantly interrupted by a drunk bunny woman trying to climb in the window. It was just weird, and Short’s microphone sounded like it was pressed right up against his throat. My candidate for worst sketch of the night.
Shuffle Along with Savion Glover
The show ended on a real high note by showcasing a number from the multiple-Tony Award nominated musical Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed. The segment featured the cast doing some amazing tap dancing leading into a solo by the show’s choreographer Savion Glover. It was an exhilarating way to end the show, and I hope this leads to more featured numbers from Broadway productions.
The premiere of Maya and Marty may have had its ups and downs, but it was at least more sure of itself than Maya’s earlier solo show, and much less frenetic than Best Time Ever. Rudolph and Short certainly have the chops to carry a show like this, and it’s interesting that NBC decided to run it in primetime. Seems like it could fill the Saturday late night spot while SNL is on hiatus instead of rerunning the past season’s episodes again (and some for a second time). Under Lorne Michaels’ guidance, the show feels like Saturday Night Live crossed with a bit of The Ed Sullivan Show, but hopefully it can be more consistently good than the past season of SNL.