TV: ‘Maya and Marty’ Highlights the Brilliance of Maya Rudolph and Martin Short

MAYA & MARTY -- Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Miley Cyrus, Maya Rudolph during the "Miley & Maya Medley" sketch on May 31, 2016 -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

With so many “Saturday Night Live” alumni (including current regulars) and the involvement of Lorne Michaels calling some of the shots behind the scenes, “Maya and Marty” feels so reminiscent of the late-night behemoth, which has fostered the careers of many comedy heavyweights for the last four decades, it’s bound to feel like it’s coming up short. In certain instances, yes, that’s the case, like the opening skit involving a NASA astronaut, played by Tom Hanks, who keeps finding excuses to leave home a little too early before take-off. The scene, albeit pretty funny, feels more like a platform for Hanks (and chicken fries), an attempt to show off the type of A-list talent “Maya and Marty” can attract. The show waxes and wanes during its one-hour premiere, sailing through some sketches, while snagging on others, eventually finding some success in candid interview sketches and a musical performance that was easily the show’s highlight of the night.

Maya Rudolph and Martin Short host the latest entry in NBC’s variety series category with self-awareness of their sporadic blend of musical numbers, comedic sketches – both live and pre-recorded – and a hefty slab of celebrity appearances (like Steve Martin who drops in during the show’s opening dialogue to say hi – and that’s it). At one point, a perennially cheery-tempered Kenan Thompson, who is apparently a regular with no name credit in the title, asks “what is this?” “We’re still trying to figure it out,” replies an inclusive Short. The show takes advantage of its network platform (it’s hard to miss the “Chicago Fire” plug-ins), utilizing NBC stars like Jimmy Fallon during a sketch that parodies Steve Harvey’s new series “Little Big Shorts” (another NBC show), with Thompson once-again reprising his excellent portrayal of  Harvey and his multifaceted expressions of consternation. Then there’s a sketch called “Melania’s Edible Diamonds,” where Rudolph plays the former Trump-trophy, selling and eating edible diamonds, which actually just turn out to be regular diamonds – perhaps an indirect attempt to squash the Republican party nominee (yes, it’s happened) and former NBC star of “Celebrity Apprentice.” But that doesn’t feel like the case. Unlike “SNL,” “Maya and Marty” steers clear of being political, opting out of lampooning politicians, instead they go after their wives, Kate McKinnon plays Heidi Cruz in this sketch. Maybe it’s too hard to roast the political elite when “SNL” does it so well, already.

The best sketches include “Jiminy Glick’s Celebrity Conversations,” easily Short’s best contribution of the episode, where he plays, in a fat suit, Jiminy, interviewer of the stars, who sits down to talk to an affably cantankerous Larry David, pointing out the comedian’s surliness, “All I was gonna say,” Glick says, “is that there’s a blandness to you that seems to be your trademark and isn’t that wonderful,” to which a good-humored David laughs heavily through the whole interview. Another sketch, “The War in Words: Letters from the Front” involves Mikey Day, head writer also better known for his David Blain street magic video spoofs some years ago, an increasingly annoyed soldier trying to find solace in his wife’s (Rudolph) laconic letters. Day reads his wife’s frustrating letters of unimaginative tales about bags of grains and photographs with President Lincoln without context in amusingly piqued fashion. The highlight of the night, though, comes from one of two performances – Miley Cyrus was fine as the first performer, it’ll surely attract younger viewers, but the second half of the song felt forced, especially with Rudolph joining in – a well-rehearsed and amazingly executed performance by Savion Glover and dancers of “Shuffle Along,” the 10-time Tony award nominated Broadway musical, performing the tap-dancing number “Pennsylvania Graveyard Shuffle.” In instances where Glover and crew tap rhythmically for a not-long-enough mesmerizing sequence, maybe it’s good that “Maya and Marty” deviates a bit from other shows.

GRADE: (★★½)

MAYA & MARTY -- Episode 101 -- Pictured: (l-r) Miley Cyrus, Maya Rudolph during the "Miley & Maya Medley" sketch on May 31, 2016 -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
MAYA & MARTY — Episode 101 — Pictured: (l-r) Miley Cyrus, Maya Rudolph during the “Miley & Maya Medley” sketch on May 31, 2016 — (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)