Maybe Baby, It’s You” is the kind of comedy someone could write only after watching years of television. Charlie Shanian and Shari Simpson, who wrote and perform this series of sketches about romantic relationships, have clearly put in many years as couch-potatoes. Unfortunately, shows like “Sex and the City” and “Sports Night” are more irreverent, edgier, sexier and, yes, funnier than this night out at the theater. Didn’t it used to be the other way around?
The too obvious influence here is “Saturday Night Live.” In one sketch a man finds himself on a blind date with Medea, of classical lit fame. In another, a bride and groom’s vows rapidly descend into a bitch fest. Film noir is parodied in a third sketch, when a couple spars using enough lurid metaphors and similes to fill a dozen Raymond Chandler novels. Once upon a time, this may have all looked very high-concept. Today, it’s too tired even for primetime.
Worse, Shanian and Simpson give many of their sketches a sentimental last-minute kicker, an old-fashioned TV convention that served to leave the audience feeling morally enriched just before the final commercial. (“Seinfeld” retired this last-minute sermonizing a decade ago.) It should be reported that the audience at the SoHo Playhouse repeatedly cooed and sighed on cue.
“Maybe Baby, It’s You” is best when Shanian and Simpson apply their talents to longer pieces that don’t rely on silly premises. In one fine skit, a woman tries to embarrass her lethargic husband into some response, any response, on their fifth anniversary. In another, an elderly divorced couple meets by accident at their grandchild’s baseball game.
Simpson especially is at her best in these two, although she is not an actress of many faces, as great sketch comedians tend to be. One is too often aware of the energy being exerted. Shanian is the more relaxed performer and he rarely fails to charm. He tends to give each of his characters a nebbishy touch, but his range from high school student to young groom to senior citizen is genuinely remarkable.
Between sketches, director Jeremy Dobrish dresses up the evening with wild graphics. There are also tape-recorded interludes of people on the street giving advice on romance and relationships. According to the press release, these real-life recordings were “gathered from random pedestrians in Central Park.” Many of them are amusing, but in the end they work to emphasize how TV-inspired “Maybe Baby, It’s You” really is. All we’re missing is Al Roker with his microphone.