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Someone Save Maya Rudolph


Did you know last night was the finale of Maya & Marty? It’s true! Last night was the finale of Maya & Marty. The six-episode series was NBC’s third crack in as many years at reviving the Carol Burnett–style variety hour, and its second headlined by Saturday Night Live alumna Maya Rudolph. (The odd show out was from Neil Patrick Harris, and we will never speak of it again.) Unsurprisingly, this effort wasn’t any more of a success than the others. Between the premiere and the finale, ratings dropped by about a third. Sketches felt fished out of the SNL writers’ room or, in the case of multiple Jiminy Glick appearances, earlier decades of cohost Martin Short’s career. And all the beloved guest stars in the world couldn’t successfully jolt this specific version of event television back to life.

None of this is a surprise; this is not the Peacock’s first attempt to make it 1997 — or any time before Netflix, really — again through science or magic, nor will it be the last. What is surprising is who’s been strapped to the bow of this particular sinking ship. Maya Rudolph is one of the most gifted comedians of her generation, and frankly, she deserves better.

Compared to her peers in Studio 8H, Rudolph is in something of an odd spot. She hasn’t had a Portlandia to showcase her quirks, à la Fred Armisen. She hasn’t had a network sitcom — a long-running one, at least — to translate said quirks into mainstream appeal, à la Amy Poehler. She’s a reliable cameo in the likes of Popstar, but she’s not a ubiquitous character actress, à la Rachel Dratch. Basically, she’s stuck in limbo between “Live from New York …” and the superstardom that’s rightfully hers. Here are a few suggestions for bridging the gap.

Save Her a Seat at the Update Desk

Take a few minutes and (re)watch Rudolph’s appearance as Brazil’s freshly resigned president, Dilma Rousseff, from the SNL season finale. The accent! The cigar! Beating Leslie Jones at her own aggressively flirtatious game! The way she pronounced Colin Jost’s name alone packed more punch, and cultural aftershock, than the entire six-week run of Maya & Marty. A modest proposal: Rudolph should do this more often.

Obviously, the long-term goal here is to get out from under 30 Rock’s shadow, but let’s be real: Rudolph is already starring in a Lorne Michaels–produced sketch show. She might as well make occasional return trips to the higher-profile mothership. This isn’t crazy: Armisen feels just fine dropping in whenever he pleases — which makes sense, given that he’s already in the building. Just two or three cameos a year should do the trick of reminding us that no one (no one) makes the word “dookies” sound like faux-Portuguese better than Maya. The “Bronx Beat” revival was a start, but the more original characters, the better.

Find Your Feig

You don’t have to be a benevolent male director’s muse to make it big time in Hollywood, but sexism is sexism, so it certainly helps. The go-to here is, of course, Paul Feig, whose #squad at this point resembles a funnier, more diverse version of Taylor Swift’s. You’ve got veterans (Kristen Wiig! Melissa McCarthy!), the JV team (Kate McKinnon! Leslie Jones!), and the occasional wild card (Sandra Bullock?). Rudolph herself is a lifetime MVP for the shitting-in-her-wedding-dress scene alone, though a memorable supporting role isn’t the same as a Spy-level game-changer.

But just because one director has made profitable, female-led comedies a solid 90 percent of his brand — the other 10 percent being his A-plus wardrobe — doesn’t mean he’s the only option. Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham have Judd Apatow, Maria Bamford has Mitch Hurwitz, and Maya Rudolph can find a partner of her own. Maybe Adam McKay can find some room in his schedule after his Jennifer Lawrence Theranos takedown; God knows Rudolph does a mean deranged mogul, too.

Here is where I ought to note that Rudolph’s real-life partner of over a decade and a half is one of the most talented filmmakers of his generation. Inherent Vice cameo aside, though, I’d argue some power couples are all the more powerful for having separate careers, particularly since Rudolph’s exaggerated silliness doesn’t pair well with PTA’s brooding California aesthetic of late. (If he goes back to the slightly less weighty tone of his Valley farces — possibly at Rudolph’s urging! — then we can talk.) Besides, it’s a little late in both their games for a Cassavetes-Rowlands situation.

Go Musical

Here’s why having Rudolph helm a variety-show revival in the first place wasn’t a terrible idea, even if doing it a second time probably was. She’s a true multitalent, a capital-E Entertainer — the kind your grandpa probably complains that they don’t make enough of these days when you show him the latest viral clip from Conan. Which is to say: She can sing, dammit.

Rudolph’s father was a producer and composer; her mother, more famously, is Minnie Riperton. Talent is more than a family tree, though, and Rudolph is more than capable of striking out on her own. (D’Angelo doesn’t do a Prince tribute with just anyone; he does it with Rudolph’s two-woman Prince cover band, which is a thing that exists.) No one’s suggesting a Lonely Island–style parody album here, but why not pull a Kiefer and go all in on the music for a bit? I’d buy that album.

Give Talk a Chance

About that capital-E Entertainer thing: One of Rudolph’s few peers in this regard is The Late Late Show’s James Corden, whose “Carpool Karaoke” segment is second only to Hamilton in Giving Musical Theater Mass Appeal Again. Which begs the question: Wouldn’t Rudolph be … pretty excellent at that job?

The last thing anyone wants is another internet cafeteria fight over women in late night. On the one hand, you either agree there should be more than two of them — or you’ve already given Ghostbusters a one-star rating on IMDb. On the other, there are many other ways to make a career in comedy that don’t involve going slowly insane by putting on four shows a week. But! Peak TV means nothing if not having the space to play to your own strengths. Enter the 21st century, low(er) budget talk show. It’s late night without the late night, and presumably without the boy’s club either.

The model here is what The Chris Gethard Show has become at Fusion, but without the grassroots, public access–assisted route to the top. (Another, slightly less once-in-a-lifetime example is “Womanhood,” Aparna Nancherla and Jo Firestone’s “Eric Andre talks periods” web series.) Freely available and totally sui generis, it combines the informality of a podcast with the visual element of a show proper. Because, no shade to podcasts, confining a presence as dynamic as Rudolph’s to only audio would be a waste.

Everything that made Rudolph a perfect candidate for an updated variety show — the charisma, the showmanship, the funny — makes her a better candidate for a series even more custom-built for her talents. Picture a host with all the infectious enthusiasm and general game-ness of a Jimmy Fallon with none of the cloying, frat-boy schtick. (And a tendency to lovably parody Beyoncé and not tweenage girls.) Besides, if she can survive a sitdown with Vanessa Beecroft, she can handle any guest booking throws her way.