May 20, 2014

It's Time For The Maya Rudolph Revolution

Maya Rudolph with contemporaries Fey and Poehler
When Maya Rudolph left Saturday Night Live in 2007, she seemed poised for a gigantic career. For seven seasons, she had shone in a cast packed with many soon-to-be television and film stars. But, instead of going the traditional post-SNL path (one terrible movie, a few years of obscurity, rising like a phoenix from the career ashes with a hit Funny or Die video, etc), she instead took a break to give birth to a veritable litter of Rudolph-Andersons. Sure, she has been in a ton of movies and TV shows since her departure, but it always feels like she's flying under the radar, not quite rising to the heights that a person as talented as she is can reach (I did not mean to include as many flying/bird analogies in this post). While Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, two of her SNL compatriots, became supa-dupa famous after they left Studio 8H, Rudolph stayed just moderately well-known, her only real breakout moment being when she pooped in the street in Bridesmaids.

Anything for a laugh.
Well, if last night's one hour variety show, The Maya Rudolph Show, is any indication, now is the Age of Maya. Though the special was a little light on laughs (especially in the second half-hour), it was a great showcase for how amazing Maya Rudolph is as a performer (not to mention how great she is at wearing a variety of sparkly dresses). Even among a cavalcade of guest stars, including Tableau Your Mind favorite Kristen Bell, the elements that shone brightest were pure Rudolph. Like Carol Burnette and, um, Rosie O'Donnell before her, Maya took to the stage with a comedian's bravado the chops to back it up. She hoofed, she sang, she did a few regrettable accents. She did anything for a laugh, and even included a few moments where laughter wasn't the point. Watching old The Carol Burnette Show clips online, I was amazed by how often the sketches weren't about the comedy – it was about highlighting the guests and friendships and giving audiences little peeks into their lives. Now, in a world where we know everything about celebrities, from their preferred birth-control rings to their thoughts on healing crystals, it's a delightful throwback to just watch stars perform as themselves. Chris Parnell's song to his newborn was a particular highlight:

Really, that's all a lot of lead up to explain why Maya Rudolph, despite exhibiting a love of all things old, is the comedy star we need now. Television, and particularly television comedy, has shifted monumentally in the last few years. Changed in part by shows like Poehler's own Parks and Recreation, what has arisen is comedy built on collaboration and friendliness more than snark and resentment. Sure, the TV landscape is full of Louie's and Louie-wannabes, but more and more there is a space for television where everyone gets along and all anyone wants is to have a good time. Shows like Broad City, Playing House, The Middle, and Key and Peele get as many viewers from the actual jokes as they do from the camaraderie exhibited among the casts. People can only handle so much 'depressing' – they want to see people getting along. And nobody seems as attuned to that friendly frequency as Maya Rudolph. She's our maternal and funny gal-pal. I mean, there's a reason she can so effortlessly play all of America's most powerful women: Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce Knowles, Phylicia Rashad. She's the performer we need and the comedic actress we deserve.

It's time for the Rudolph revolution! It's time for Maya to shine!

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