What would comedy writers do without politicians, movies and especially television? Parodies of such familiar targets increasingly seem to dominate small-screen humor, as illustrated by the season premiere tonight of "Crabs," Maryland Public Television's original comedy revue beginning its seventh year.
Easily half the skits in the show (at 8:30, channels 22 and 67) depend for their laughs on viewers' familiarity with media figures or institutions.
Jeff Baker's introduction as President Bush, for example, seems as much an imitation of "Saturday Night Live" regular Dana Carvey doing the president.
A couple of skits parody the recent movie hits "Driving Miss Daisy" (done here as Spike Lee might do it) and "Field of Dreams" (cleverly set in Baltimore's Camden Yards). Two others take on TV commercial messages (including a funny bit on those Ray Charles blind taste tests for Diet Pepsi and a spot on babies trying to kick a lactose habit). And another seems somewhere between the current hit TV show "In Loving Color" and "SNL's" own "Wayne's World" skits (with Dave Drabik and Andre Browne here as "homeboy" restaurant critics).
The "Field of Dreams" sketch is the sharpest, with regular rTC Auggie Dorsett portraying Governor Schaefer on the site of the new downtown stadium. Like Kevin Costner in the film, he hears whispers and in the end must make amends with a surprise figure from his past.
A non-parody skit with Maravene Loeschke and Grainne Cassidy neatly sketches the communications gap between management and labor -- one says "management trainee" and the other says "boss' nephew" -- and other bits have modest fun with doting parents, unhelpful help in retail stores, animal rights activists and consumer advice for Halloween.
As in other "Crabs" installments, some ideas work better than others. But unlike earlier shows, which were broadcast live, this "Crabs" was taped a week ago, reveals producer/head writer Dick George.
"It's still one-take TV, and we go start to finish," he says of the show, which was taped before a studio audience at MPT headquarters in Owings Mills. However, last spring's final show was largely done on tape and proved the value of being able to edit out minor fluffs, says George.
Viewers can still experience performance comedy in production, says the producer, by requesting free tickets to future tapings of "Crabs." The next studio audience is needed Dec. 12, and viewers can call 581-4229 to reserve a seat.
As usual, tonight's "Crabs" is paired with satirist Mark Russell's latest comedy special for PBS, airing live from the State University of New York at Buffalo.