Thursday, June 02, 2016

M&M or Ready For Prime Time?

Up until the 1980s, prime time variety was a mainstay of television. I'm not sure why it died out, but people apparently preferred continuing storylines or reality TV.  So it's a bit of a surprise to see NBC give a shot to Maya & Marty, a Tuesday night hour on NBC done in the variety format.  Hosted by Maya Rudolph and Martin Short, it's mostly sketches with the occasional musical number.

When I first heard about the show, I was a bit confused.  It seemed to me Martin Short was a bigger name than Maya Rudolph, so why the equal billing (with her name first)?  Apparently, the original idea was to give Rudolph her own show, but when the pilot didn't catch on, Short came aboard and the hour was retooled.

Maya & Marty also features Kenan Thompson in the supporting cast, and the first episode had guest stars Tom Hanks, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon and Kate McKinnon, as well as musical acts Miley Cyrus and the Broadway cast of Shuffle Along.  Next week promises Tina Fey and Steve Martin.

These are mostly names associated with Saturday Night Live, and though no one officially says it, this is essentially the SNL summer replacement show.  In fact, it's produced by SNL's Lorne Michaels, and is performed in front of a live (and highly responsive) audience.

I wouldn't call the material awful, but it rarely rose above the mediocre (sort of like SNL itself). My favorite bits were a pre-taped selection where Short as Jiminy Glick--a character he's done before (and who once had his own show)--talked to Larry David in what appeared to be an improvised interview, and a sketch about letters written between a Civil War soldier and his uncommunicative wife.

Maya and Marty themselves, though both game, didn't have much chemistry.  Is this because they both think they should be doing their own shows?  And will they try to address this in the future?  Also, both Rudolph and Thompson appeared in ads during the show--real ads, not fake ads. Is this part of the deal?

Anyway, I'm a fan of Short (and have nothing against Rudolph), so, not unlike how I view Saturday Night Live, I'll probably watch the program if I'm around.  And where have I got to go at 10 pm on Tuesday nights?

PS  The critics have not been kind.  Maureen Ryan's review in Variety, by the way, singled out the Civil War sketch as one of the low points, calling it a parody of Ken Burns and interminable--actually, the main point wasn't mocking Burns (a lot others have done that) and the bit allowed the jokes to progress, rather than repeating the same basic gag, which is what makes so many SNL sketches interminable.  She did like Jiminy Glick, though she thought the bit was too long.  She described Jiminy as "obsequious," which suggests she either doesn't understand the character or the adjective.


Blogger New England Guy said...

"I wouldn't call the material awful, but it rarely rose above the mediocre"

I think you have summed all TV variety shows that I remember - My point of reference would be Sonny & Cher, Cher, Captain & Tennille and Pink Lady & Jeff (which I would argue works as performance art. Bad performance art perhaps)

4:03 AM, June 02, 2016  
Blogger New England Guy said...

I left out- Tony Orlando & Dawn and the Hudson Brothers

8:33 AM, June 02, 2016  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I loved Sonny & Cher when I was a kid, though I'm not sure how well their stuff would hold up today.

The stuff you mention, of course, is the tail-end of variety, which used to feature stronger names in both music and comedy--Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Danny Kaye, Martin & Lewis, Judy Garland, Dinah Shore, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Carol Burnett and quite a few others. If you were an entertainer who'd made it in Vaudeville or movies or night clubs, it was the most likely format you'd try in TV.

Just before the end, The Smothers Brothers and Rowan & Martin brought something new to the genre, and Flip Wilson along with Sonny & Cher had maybe the last big prime time hits. After that, it moved into late night and different formats, like reality TV.

10:35 AM, June 02, 2016  
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4:08 AM, July 08, 2016  

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