Beware Of Greeks Bearing Big Fat Sitcoms

My Big Fat Greek Life," the TV phase of creator and star Nia Vardalos's campaign to take over American pop culture, makes one significant change from the movie. Yes, John Corbett, who played the husband in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," has been replaced by Steven Eckholdt--but I said "significant." Even John Tesh could play the husband. The significant change is that our heroine's name has been switched from Toula to Nia. Which (see above) is Vardalos's first name. In the business, folks, this is called branding, and it's CBS's effort to catapult the actress into the realm of comics like Ray Romano and Jerry Seinfeld. Big fat Greek chance. If the movie was comfort food--familiar, not too spicy, easy to swallow--then the TV series is the stale leftovers.

"My Big Fat Greek Life," whose debut last week was greeted by 22.7 million depressingly eager viewers, falls apart on a pretty basic level: it isn't funny. The writing is so retrograde that the mere mention of sex often passes for a joke. Usually it's Nia's aunt Voula who brings up the subject. This is funny because Voula is a middle-aged woman. The acting doesn't bail anyone out. Vardalos was fine in the film, but on TV, she blurts out her dialogue as if she has to beat the laugh track to the joke and ends up stepping on her punch lines.

As ever, the heart of "My Big Fat Greek Life" is Nia's run-ins with her wacky family. The movie didn't exactly reinvent the wheel on this subject, and the TV show is even more banal. Family members show up uninvited, they butt in, they feed Nia constantly, they nag her about having children. There's nothing especially Greek about any of this, which, as Vardalos surely must have calculated, is why viewers adore it. It's universal--and it's what makes the show so boring. It's one thing to remind us that we're all human, it's quite another to tell us we're all exactly the same. If Vardalos really was aiming for the lowest common denominator, mazel tov, she found it.

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