Maya and Marty

NBC

After watching the pilot for NBC’s Maya and Marty, we were left with one pertinent question:

Why is the variety show so tough to pull off these days?

There was a time, in the 60s and 70s, when numerous variety shows entertained the American viewing public. Throw a comedian or pop singer together with a cast of zany (but smart and funny) actors for sketches, and bring in weekly special guests (more distinguished singers or actors) to join in the fun. Obviously, it wasn’t quite that easy, and no doubt multiple variety shows failed to even get picked up despite following such a formula. But there were still a fair amount of successful ones back then.

And so we looked forward to Maya and Marty, hoping it could bring back some of that same magic and entertain us for an hour with clever sketches and the occasional song. Unfortunately, it failed in an epic manner.

For one thing, the show relied heavily upon SNL players, both past and present. Kenan Thompson, who has been largely unfunny for years on SNL (and it baffles us how he keeps getting brought back), was similarly unfunny with his sketch on Maya and Marty in which he attempted to parody Steve Harvey and Harvey’s latest show Little Big Shots. The dull sketch included Jimmy Fallon who took time off from his The Tonight Show duties to team up with Martin Short as hyperactive, annoying kids. Even Jimmy’s proclivity for breaking character and laughing during a sketch (which was often charming and funny in its own right during his days on SNL) failed to add any humor whatsoever.

Kate McKinnon, one of the few bright spots for SNL the past few years, also failed to bring any humor during her sketch with Maya Rudolph who did her impersonation of Melania Trump. Though her take on Melania wasn’t bad at all, it was too similar in nature to her famously delicious impersonation of Donatella Versace from her SNL days. Aside from that, the sketch as a whole simply didn’t make us laugh. At all.

And if that wasn’t enough SNL references in one show, one of SNL’s earliest regular guests, Steve Martin, made a brief appearance during the opening monologue. But Martin, who lost the funny decades ago, also failed to bring much to the table with his bland array of quips. Come to think of it, the same could be said about the other Martin (Short).

As for that monologue, it lacked any kind of humor or charm, and if anything, it helped foreshadow the disaster that was to come. Granted, the first sketch with guest Tom Hanks in a pre-recorded piece about an astronaut and his wife (played by Maya) was fairly humorous, it took too long to get to the punchline. And another sketch about a Civil War soldier exchanging letters from the battlefield with his wife (again featuring Maya, as well as Martin Short) was amusing, but it, too, took a while before the payoff (and it wasn’t worth the wait). But other than these two mildly interesting sketches, the rest were fillers, and one in particular, involving Short, Maya, and guest Miley Cyrus was a bizarre piece in which they wore rabbit ears and brought zero laughs. Miley also served as guest singer and performed a cabaret-style number which eventually brought in Maya to join Miley. It came off as old-fashioned despite the gender-bending tone of the performance, and seemed like a lost opportunity in that it failed to fully capitalize on the combined talents of Maya and Miley.

There was also a dance number towards the end of the episode performed by Broadway dancers featuring choreographed tap-dancing. Seemed like something that would have been a regular feature decades ago, but for a show in today’s age (when tap-dancing is as foreign to most of the under-40 crowd as is smoking cigarettes on a show), it seemed like another swing-and-miss. Maybe the biggest whiff, however, was Short reviving his character Jiminy Glick as he interviewed Larry David. Has he nothing new to offer? Why does he have to rely on an old bit that got tired long ago?

And maybe that’s the perfect adjective for this show, or at least for the pilot episode--tired. Everything from the SNL retreads to the old-fashioned song and dance numbers felt tired and well worn-out. Though Maya had her moments, and she again showcased some of her formidable talents that made her an SNL classic back in the day, it wasn’t enough to rescue this train-wreck of a show.

Which brings us back to our original question: 

Why is the variety show so tough to pull off these days?

We think star power—or lack thereof, in this case—might have something to do with it. Had Maya been teamed up with, say, Will Smith and Justin Timberlake, the entire dynamic of the show changes. Not only does each of those two actors have a myriad of famous friends to call upon as guests, they have each demonstrated their chops in TV comedy and are considerably successful to one degree or another in the music world. Not to mention they would’ve created some serious buzz as both men are much more relevant than Martin Short, who himself came off as big a retread as other elements of the pilot. He would’ve been better served playing a smaller role—the Harvey Korman to Maya’s Carol Burnett.

Of course, convincing two Hollywood heavyweights like Smith and Timberlake to commit to a weekly variety show is a pipe dream—maybe even a crack-pipe dream as it’s that delusional to even consider. But some combination of currently relevant names might be needed for ultimate success, given today’s TV landscape and the seemingly endless choices viewers now have. It’s not like the variety show’s heyday of the 60s and 70s when there were only three networks and each of them could afford to wait for a show to build an audience. Today you need to make a splash now, not wait for the splash to build because audiences have too many other choices on the tube (and on the computer for that matter).

Then there’s the writing. The sketches, as has been mentioned, were largely dull. Considering the edgy sketches popularized on various sketch shows championed by Comedy Central the past few years (Key and Peele in particular), to feature set pieces as silly and dull as those featured on recent SNL episodes is a recipe for disaster. They don’t have to be raunchy like some of the sketches on Comedy Central, but they do need to be creative, fresh, and most importantly, funny. Until a show can figure out how to pull that off on a network at primetime with buzz-worthy co-hosts (along with Maya or someone with her entertainment skills), the variety show will just remain the legendary white whale that will be occasionally sought but never captured.

**Edited to add:
By variety shows, we mean the old-fashioned formats of skits played out by show regulars along with musical numbers and special guests. We realize many consider shows like America's Got Talent to be the new type of variety show, and they may well be; but they're not the same format we're talking about (AGT may actually be superior). Saturday Night Live is the closest modern example to the classic variety show, but it doesn't air in prime time, plus it has so many of its own problems going back a decade that discussing it seems beyond the scope of this particular article.
 


Comments

Tv shows are making us fresh and cool. We watch the program according to the needs and desires. Funny and sitcoms are nice and it gives smile and happiness. I also like the shows and dramas.

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