'Crabs' episode airing tonight needs more bite


December 26, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Televison Critic

"Crabs," Maryland Public Television's comedy revue, is a good-looking show. It has a talented cast, slick production values and crisp execution.

The problem with tonight's installment, which airs at 8:30 on MPT (Channels 22 and 67), is that there is less there than meets the eye.

Tonight's show is pleasant to look at. It will probably make you smile. But its writing does not have the kind of depth or edge to qualify as the sort of social commentary attempted by "Saturday Night Live" or "In Living Color."

The opening piece, featuring Jeff Baker as George Bush, is representative of the show's pluses and minuses.

The staging is impressive. Baker stands in front of a massive American flag, as George C. Scott did in "Patton." He's wearing a commander's baseball cap, sport shirt and sweater. He's carrying a putter. He's talking about Saddam Hussein and the crisis in the Gulf.

Baker sounds a lot and even looks a little like Bush. His performance is consistently on the money. But there's never a satiric payoff: No real insight into Bush is offered by what Baker says.

By way of comparison, a recent "Saturday Night Live" piece, which featured one of the cast portraying Bush, suggested that what made the Gulf situation so dangerous was that Bush's self concept and sense of manhood were driving foreign policy today the same way that Lyndon Johnson's need to feel more sexually potent than Ho Chi Minh affected our foreign policy in Vietnam. "Crabs" offers us no such food for thought with its Bush. And it may be the best-written piece of the half hour.

Other segments include: a parody of television ads for Citibank credit cards; a heavy-handed, eye-rolling representation of the Rev. Al Sharpton; a piece on cereal packaging and labeling; "Rockin' & rappin' to the classics" with a punk rock and a rap artist critiquing "Nutcracker," and a man and a woman substituting the sharing of their health certificates with each other for the act of sex.

Except for the Sharpton piece, it is all engaging stuff. Much of the credit for that goes to the actors, who consistently perform at the level of very good regional theater. But when it comes to satiric edge -- well, if this was 1984, we'd be asking, "Where's the beef?"

"Crabs" is a local production -- one of the only local comedy productions of its kind in the country. Maybe it is not fair to compare it to "Saturday Night Live" or "In Living Color."

But to refrain from comparing "Crabs" to such commercial network shows is to patronize it. Despite tonight's lack of satiric bite, "Crabs" is too ambitious and overall too impressive a show to want to be handled with kid gloves.

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