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Maya Rudolph and Martin Short’s variety show was short, sweet, and beautifully bizarre

The stars quietly turned Maya and Marty into Saturday Night Live: All Stars

Your hosts, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, and an unidentified llama.
NBC

Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for July 10 through July 17 is "Episode 6: Sean Hayes, Steve Martin, Kelly Ripa & Emma Stone," the sixth episode of NBC’s Maya and Marty.

There are slicker shows than Maya and Marty, NBC’s variety series in which Maya Rudolph and Martin Short earnestly throw everything they have into sketches and musical numbers alike.

But while watching its sixth episode — the final one for this first season, and maybe the series finale, period, if NBC doesn’t pick more episodes up — I realized that I’d grown to love Maya and Marty, if only because it’s one of the warmest shows I’ve seen in a long while.

There’s no trace of cynicism or sarcasm. Rudolph and Short are thrilled to be on that stage entertaining people every chance they get, and even when the sketches fall short, the sincere effort on the hosts’ part to make each other both laugh and smile is a joy.

And that’s not even mentioning the hugely talented guest actors that drop in every week — most notably SNL alumni like Steve Martin, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler — who throw themselves into the action without question, bringing their own honed brands of lunacy to the table.

To be sure, the first couple of episodes were rocky. The hosts — as well as co-stars Kenan Thompson and SNL writer Mikey Day — took time to find their footing in the variety show format, which gives the cast a chance to sing in formalwear in between truly bonkers sketches. But by the sixth episode, Maya and Marty was so comfortable in its own skin that it would be incredibly disappointing if it were canceled.

This show is a full-body experience for everyone involved in it

At its best, Maya and Marty is somewhere between Saturday Night Live: All Stars and Seth Meyers’s Late Night feature where SNL players get to mount sketches they tried and failed to get on the air.

Every week, Short brings out his old mainstay character Jiminy Glick, a salivating celebrity interviewer who runs on donuts and poorly hidden contempt for his guests. The best Glick segment throughout the six episodes was the first, as Glick’s guest Larry David gave as good as he got:

But in the sixth episode, the always game Kelly Ripa stepped in to let Glick rant essentially uninterrupted as she couldn’t stop laughing, which is probably more representative of how these segments go:

Still, neither Rudolph nor Short lean much harder than that on the characters they’d already created at SNL or elsewhere. The rest of the sketches tended toward the offbeat, like they were intended for SNL’s infamous "10 to 1 [am]" slot where the week’s most bizarre ideas get a chance to shine.

My personal favorite example of this embrace of the bizarre is from the July 5 episode, when Will Forte tapped in as a puppeteer with seven broken fingers, trying — and failing — to wrangle his marionettes, who were played to stumbling perfection by Rudolph, Short, Day, and Poehler.

(Here’s where I want to offer a special shoutout to Day’s awesome physical comedy, and while we’re at it, to his stellar Maya and Marty contributions in general — Day was also head writer — which should by all rights land him a spot in SNL’s cast in addition to his current role on the show’s writing staff.)

The two best sketches from episode six have concepts almost as strange and impossible to describe as "Marionettes," but just like that one, the element that makes them work is how completely the cast throws itself into the weirdest possible scenarios.

Take "Office Ghosts," a sketch about a mundane office being haunted by blood-drooling interns (played by Day and Emma Stone):

There’s not a whole lot to this concept, but tell me you’re not impressed by how Short keeps his face straight as Stone and Day ooze guts all over it.

In the (slightly) more cerebral sector, there’s "Superclean Commercial," which seems like an ordinary infomercial parody until the people in it keep forgetting the number they’re supposed to call approximately two seconds after Day’s increasingly impatient voiceover says it:

It’s simple, but again: That cast sells the hell out of it.

As you might have noticed, none of the sketches I’ve mentioned have anything to do with politics, celebrity gossip, or anything else from the week they aired. They’re all "evergreen," meaning you could watch them a year from now, and they’d still make just as much sense.

That might sound simple, but making sketches that are less dependent on the news is rare and often harder than crafting something topical. Rather than pegging jokes to timely events, you have to dig deeper into more universal themes to find what makes people laugh.

So while SNL often depends on the news of the week to propel itself forward, Maya and Marty set itself a harder task by choosing to avoid it entirely. That choice paid off, with sketches you can watch whenever you want without missing out on what made the sketch funny in the first place.

What makes Maya and Marty special is knowing the importance of being earnest

But even though Maya and Marty made me laugh until I cried, what really makes me appreciate the show the most are, in fact, the segments that make it a variety series. Rudolph — who’s been part of several bands over the years — clearly loves to entertain through song just as much as through comedy. When she, Short, and whomever else stopped by take a breath and sing a song, it’s entirely earnest, and even lovely.

So you get moments like this one with Rudolph and Stone, tapping on butter tubs in unison and singing Robyn’s "Call Your Girlfriend" using Erato’s arrangement, their voices intertwining like wisps of smoke:

The second the duo hums its last note, the two break into huge grins, like they can’t believe their luck at getting through the tune in one piece, or that they got to perform it together.

Basically: It’s a fucking delight.

Maybe this all sounds too indulgent, too saccharine to be fun — and if that’s your immediate reaction to reading this, you’re probably right that this show isn’t for you.

But if you have room to welcome a quick shot of sunshine into your world, you could do a whole lot worse than the last three minutes of every episode of Maya and Marty, when Maya Rudolph, Kenan Thompson, and Martin Short gather around a piano in their formal best, beam at each other, and sing their guts out for the sheer pleasure of getting to do it, together.

The sixth episode of Maya and Marty is currently available to stream on Hulu, alongside additional clips from earlier episodes.

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