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'Maya And Marty': NBC Tries A Lukewarm Summer 'SNL' In Prime Time

Martin Short and Maya Rudolph kicked off their variety show <em>Maya & Marty </em>on Tuesday night.
Martin Short and Maya Rudolph kicked off their variety show <em>Maya & Marty </em>on Tuesday night.

NBC hyped its new Maya & Martyvariety series, starring Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, as a sort of whimsical variety show. What actually emerged Tuesday night, on the other hand, was a slack Saturday Night Liveimitator for the prime-time summer nights where reruns used to live.

It's perhaps understandable that NBC would be skittish about any actual attempt at a traditional variety show: last fall's Best Time Everwas short-lived despite the presence of the always game Neil Patrick Harris. If he can't make a traditional variety show sing, maybe nobody can. Or maybe all our real variety show elements live now in late night, with Jimmy Fallon and James Corden and their clickable, cut-down-able bits.

Still, it's too bad what they made instead was so watery, as if SNLsomehow had yet another half-hour after its 1 a.m., often-merciful end. A digital short featuring Tom Hanks as an astronaut whose teary goodbye to his wife (Rudolph) hides an actual desire to eat Burger King and hang out with his buddy (Short) started with a decent premise, but would have been better off staying with the man and wife and leaving the friend out of it. And while Kenan Thompson's Steve Harvey impression is funny, it was used for the benefit of a really dumb sketch featuring Fallon and Short as contestants on Harvey's Little Big Shots. A Melania Trump sketch wasted both Rudolph and Kate McKinnon in a bit that was ostensibly about edible diamonds (kind of funny) but wound up really being about accents (not as funny).

The premiere had a lot of the qualities of a bad SNLepisode. It had a terrible monologue — Rudolph and Short can both be funny, but the monologue inspired "oof" noises throughout. It relied too much on overused characters like Short's Jiminy Glick, who spent seven minutes being basically a single fat-suit joke. It overindulged ideas like a Goodnight Moonsendup with vulgar, drunk rabbit neighbors (you heard me) — the kind of sketch where you think, "This is probably funnier if you've got the right chemicals in your system."

The best of the sketches was an exchange of letters between a Civil War soldier and his wife back home. When he dictated a typical, Ken-Burns-y letter of longing ending with expressions of love and an inquiry as to her condition, she wrote back, "I'm good." This was a good start, and they carried it off pretty well — it was the only sketch I'd ever recommend anybody watch.

Ironically, one of the things that was a problem for such an underwhelming show on the whole was that it had a couple of flashes of excitement that emphasized how phoned-in some of the rest of it often felt. Every time Miley Cyrus actually just sings songs, it's a reminder that under the controversial figure she's become, and provided she can put her energy into music itself, she's a good and interesting singer. Her take on Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" was unexpected and oddly powerful, and much more vital than most of what was around it.

Similarly, the show sort of shot itself in the foot by closing with Savion Glover and the cast of Broadway's buzzy musical Shuffle Along tapdancing. If you want to make yourself look boring, follow your so-so sketches with a giant Broadway cast of dancers. As with Cyrus, it was like a piece of real fruit floating in Hawaiian Punch: the thing that reminds you of what you're not getting.

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