Fred Armisen, Andy Samberg, Chris Parnell, and a swarm of other performers are buzzing around backstage, quick-changing into tuxes, old-timey vendor uniforms, and giant foam letters. Saturday Night Live godfather Lorne Michaels is watching from the wings. And Maya Rudolph steps onto the stage in a flowing pink dress and warns: “I hope you’re all wearing socks, guys — because they’re about to get blown off!”
The audience roars, and as the cameras start filming, she says: “Hello, everybody! I’m Maya Rudolph and I’ll be your host for the next hour…” Pause. “That doesn’t sound right. There must be a better way to introduce myself…” A sprinkling of keyboard chords. “My name’s Maya, I’m an actress and mother as well/I’ve got four children lovely and sweet,” she sings. “I spent seven great years on SNL/And in Bridesmaids I pooped in the street…” She rips off her dress, revealing a shinier one, and shimmies through an overstuffed number that involves Laker Girls, plate spinners, and…a farm animal. What follows next are more songs, impressions, sketches, a weird dance-off, and this thought: Sometimes the best way to blow off some socks is to slip on a comfy old pair of your own.
Maya Rudolph is back — not just on TV but in her happy place, surrounded by SNL pals, spectacle, and silliness. Airing May 19 on NBC, The Maya Rudolph Show is a one-time variety special, but should America clap loudly enough, more installments will likely arrive next season. Although recent attempts to pull off this type of feel-good throwback programming didn’t stick (Rosie Live, Osbournes: Reloaded), Rudolph — an SNL vet who scored with incisive impersonations (Donatella Versace, Oprah), bizarro characters (the avant-garde European art dealer Nuni), and powerful pipes — is armed with a funnier, more versatile pedigree. Good luck trying to get the self-described “two and three-quarters threat” to see it that way. “The thing about me is that I don’t have a lot of moves. Like, this is my move,” Rudolph, 41, says self-effacingly, which is how she says many things. “It just kind of was the right time to do the only thing I know how to do. I wasn’t stroking a hairless cat, like, ‘I know what I’ll do next!’”