“What is this?”
Both Martin Short and Kenan Thompson both asked variations on that question during the opening monologue for the debut episode Tuesday night of Maya & Marty on NBC.
In short, it’s Saturday Night Live alums (mostly), performing in front of a live audience (but taped on Thursdays to air on Tuesdays), and lasts an hour instead of 90 minutes. But called it Tuesday Night Taped SNL All-Stars Reunion Specials doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, nor make for hashtag Tweeting, quite like Maya & Marty does.
“The show is going to be comedy, music and special guests,” Short promised in that opening monologue, which also introduced regular third player on the call sheet in current SNL cast member Thompson, and a cameo from longtime SNL and Short touring buddy, Steve Martin.
NBC initially aired a Maya Rudolph Show variety hour two years ago in May 2014, but hesitated on moving forward until after Rudolph and Short performed together on the SNL40 live primetime special in February 2015.
The theme SNL Past and Present joining forces for summer playtime extends throughout the operation. With a dash of Letterman alums mixed in!
SNL cast member Beck Bennett delivered the voiceover for the opening introductions.
Mikey Day, an SNL writer, received a huge promotion here — not only onscreen as a featured player, appearing alongside Rudolph and Short in a sketch about sending Civil War letters — but also behind the scenes as he’s a head writer with SNL’s co-head writer Bryan Tucker and Maya & Marty producer Matt Roberts (a Letterman EP/writing alum).
The other Maya & Marty writers? Eli Bauman, Chris Belair, Jeremy Beiler, Hallie Cantor, David Feldman, R.J. Fried, Melissa Hunter, Paul Masella, Tim McAuliffe, John Mulaney, Diallo Riddle, Maya, Bashir Salahuddin, Marika Sawyer, Streeter Seidell, Marty, Emily Spivey and Steve Young.
Jeff Richmond (SNL, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) supervises the music, which includes a house band on one side of the stage at Studio 6A in 30 Rock (former home to Late Night under Letterman, Conan and Fallon).
Former Letterman showrunner Barbara Gaines is an associate producer. Longtime SNL cue card king Wally Feresten is one of three cue card guys here, too.
A few more thoughts and notes from the series debut:
- What sets Maya & Marty themselves apart from most of their SNL counterparts are their innate abilities to adapt to a primetime variety show format. Both Rudolph and Short want to break into song. They want to do it all. Having them share the load means neither has to carry it for the full hour. Balance is good.
- With only an hour versus 90 minutes, that 44 minutes of airtime gets reduced further when you factor in two musical guest performances. In the premiere, Miley Cyrus sang two standards, joined on the second by Rudolph; plus a dance number from Savion Glover and the cast of Shuffle Along on Broadway.
- I’m surprised Rudolph’s Prince tribute band, Princess, didn’t perform. Maybe later this summer?
- I’m NOT surprised in the slightest that Short’s longtime character, the buffoonish interviewer Jiminy Glick, showed up, in a taped sketch insulting Larry David while also being chastised by him for his anti-Semitism and general incompetence.
- That Glick piece was a separate filmed piece, as was the first sketch of the series, “The Astronaut,” starring Tom Hanks as an astronaut who pads the time of his latest space mission to avoid face time with his wife.
- Other stars who worked a summer shift for Maya & Marty’s debut included Jimmy Fallon (as an obnoxious twin of Short’s in a Little Big Shots parody, with Thompson playing Steve Harvey), and Kate McKinnon (as Heidi Cruz, countering Rudolph’s Melania Trump in a sketch selling edible diamonds).
For all of the SNL comparisons, and perhaps even the notion that the Lorne Michaels Universe is expanding almost as fast as the Marvel Cinematic Universe…
For all of that, Maya & Marty really falls more in line with, and seems attempting to sync up with the vibe captured four decades ago by The Carol Burnett Show.
Just like that great classic primetime variety show, Maya & Marty aims to assemble a cohesive group of comedic performers who all love playing with each other and having as much fun as possible in front of their studio audience. Without the constraint of live TV and set changes, they can let loose in each sketch. Whether it always works is always as much a matter of the source material as it is the actors reading from it. The Little Big Shots parody and the Goodnight, Moon sketch felt like they were missing something. The edible diamond sketch, however, found Rudolph and McKinnon conveying enough giddiness to become contagious for us viewers.
Let’s hope the fun continues throughout the summer.
Here’s the roundup of scenes from the debut of Maya & Marty: