Why Does Hollywood Keep Failing Maya Rudolph?

Why Does Hollywood Keep Failing Maya Rudolph?

In the new comedy series Loot, premiering on Apple TV+ June 24, Maya Rudolph plays a billionaire named Molly Novak who becomes involved in her charity, the Wells Foundation, for the first time following a painful divorce from her husband of 20 years (Adam Scott) after discovering his infidelity.

The sitcom marks the Saturday Night Live alum’s second collaboration with Alan Young and Matt Hubbard, who created the short-lived (albeit critically acclaimed) Prime show Forever, which she starred in opposite Fred Armisen. The rest of Loot’s cast includes an all-star lineup of buzzy, emerging talent, such as Pose’s Michael Jaé Rodriguez, Fire Island’s Joel Kim Booster and stand-up comedian Ron Funches.

As enjoyable as this all sounds on paper, I regret to inform you that Loot is not a good show. In fact, it’s a very bad show that, at times, is jarring in its mediocrity, given all the money that the streaming service has seemingly thrown at the swanky project. The writing is noticeably lacking, from its underwhelming attempts at cringey, The Office-esque humor to insignificant subplots that are genuinely hard to stay invested in. Additionally, the dialogue is awkwardly spare, leaving dead air between jokes and character interactions that only emphasize how deeply unfunny the show’s comedy is.

It’s difficult to tell whether Loot—which feels ripe for satire—is at all interested in lambasting the mega-rich or the non-profit industry outside of portraying Novak as a bumbling, artless woman. (This is maybe why the show works better as a light romantic comedy than a sharp workplace comedy). The series is strangely apprehensive about portraying Novak as unlikeable or making her new peers dislike her beyond some short-lived tension, despite how ultimately self-centered and self-rewarding her newfound interest in charity work is post-public heartbreak and subsequent spiraling.

Overall, the series is so breezy and devoid of any real conflict or social commentary that it feels completely toothless and undercooked.

One would hope that Rudolph, a reliably charming comedic actor and delightful screen presence, would be able to distract from some of the series’ narrative flaws. However, you can see the show’s befuddling tone impacting her performance in the first few episodes. Likewise, she spends most of the pilot struggling to find a middle ground between her heightened goofball antics and the more subtle, melancholic performance she delivered on Forever. As the series goes on, the star leans more toward the latter to better results, but it’s not enough to forgive what’s lacking in other aspects of the show.

It’s a shame that Rudolph, the most prominent Black female cast member on SNL to date, has yet to find a starring vehicle that’s managed to stick with audiences or matches her level of talent, while her former castmates like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Will Forte, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig and Fred Armisen have all been able to carve out lanes for themselves in television and film.

The abrupt ending of Forever, considering the stellar reviews Rudolph and the show received during its arrival in 2018, felt particularly cruel. But it wasn’t the first time, in the actress’ post-SNL career that she’s had a starring vehicle snatched away from her too soon.

In 2016, she starred on the one-season sketch show, Maya & Marty, alongside comedy legend Martin Short. The Lorne Michaels-produced variety series was able to attract an assortment of big names and a surprisingly consistent amount of viewers each week. However, the series, according to Michaels, was never meant to expand past its six episodes, as it was planned as a summer miniseries rather than a multi-season show. Before that, Rudolph co-starred on the NBC sitcom Up All Night, playing Christina Applegate’s best friend on the series who hosted a talk show. The role felt especially befitting considering Rudolph’s knack for portraying larger-than-life divas on SNL, including Oprah. But the show only lasted two seasons as ratings sharply declined.

For the most part, Hollywood has rewarded Rudolph for being a reliable and often scene-stealing supporting character. Over the past two years, she’s picked up three Emmys, one for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance as the Connie the Hormone Monstress on the Netflix animated series Big Mouth and two for guest appearances on SNL—both during the period when she was lauded for her portrayal of Vice President Kamala Harris. Despite being such a beloved figure in entertainment, Hollywood still seems comfortable primarily watching her pop in and out of other people’s work for a brief laugh.

Despite being such a beloved figure in entertainment, Hollywood still seems comfortable primarily watching her pop in and out of other people’s work for a brief laugh.

Folks who’ve watched Rudolph on SNL, where she worked from 2000 to 2007, and followed her career since have counted on the 49-year-old to turn out delightfully weird, oddball performances when she appears on screen. Some have failed to stick the landing. Certain impressions, like her questionable imitation of Beyonce, hardly feel studied or tethered to reality; others, such as her portrayal of Halle Berry post-Oscars on SNL, her memorable voice work on Big Mouth. and her time playing a cannibalistic Dionne Warwick on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, are either perfectly fitting or so outrageously bizarre that they magically work.

Her more subtle, dramatic work is equally notable, like in the 2009 Sam Mendes film Away We Go, the 2015 Rebecca Miller dramedy Maggie’s Plan, and brief appearances in a couple of her partner Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. Her ability to hold her own as the least funny performance in Bridesmaids without fading to the background is maybe her biggest achievement on this front.

Maya Rudolph in Loot

Colleen Hayes/Apple TV+

It doesn’t make sense that in our too-much-TV world, the best vehicle Rudolph can find at a major streaming service is a show like Loot that will most likely get lost in the sea of other mediocre shows currently streaming. (Although she did recently reveal that she was offered Sandra Oh’s role in Killing Eve, which, according to critics, may have been rewarding for exactly one season).

Maybe the fact that Rudolph seemingly never runs out of opportunities, big or small, speaks to the understated power she wields in Hollywood thanks to her sturdy resume and a coterie of other well-established industry friends. However, it’s still frustrating watching Hollywood fail her over and over again.


The Daily Beast

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