Something's been lost in the television translation of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." I really enjoyed the movie, which was funny and sweet. And I wanted to like the TV version. But it's just not doing it for me.
Ordinarily, this wouldn't be a surprise. After all, TV sitcom history is littered with failed shows spun off of hit movies. For every "M*A*S*H" there are dozens of others that have lasted a half-a-season or less, from "Working Girl" to "Paper Moon" to . . . well, to too many to name.
But in the case of "My Big Fat Greek Sitcom," er, "My Big Fat Greek Life," much of the film's talent has been retained for the TV show, led by Nia Vardalos, whose Oscar-nominated screenplay and charming performance in the lead role helped make the theatrical film last year's most unexpected box-office smash.
When she was publicizing the sitcom, Vardalos told entertainment reporters that she wanted to have a character-driven show, one that was not simply, as she put it, "joke, joke, joke." Since she is more or less in charge, she has to take the blame for this show being just that — joke, joke joke. The scripts are loaded with typical sitcom-style gags, and they're very hit-and-miss; too often, miss.
On the plus side, there is a large ensemble cast at work here — with a remarkable number of the players repeating their movie roles (albeit with a couple of unexplained character-name changes — most noticeably Vardalos' character, which has gone form the movie's "Toula" to her real name, "Nia").
And all of those cast members are quite talented. But if you compare their performances in the movie with the way they are playing them for the TV show, it's easy to see that a dumbing-down effect has been forced on them. What were once warm, universal characters anyone could identify with, have now become broad, braying caricatures.
For example, each show gives a nice moment or two to Nia's parents, played wonderfully by veterans Michael Constantine and Lainie Kazan, But each show also gives them something to do that doesn't work — or worse, something that's downright embarrassing.
In the most recent new episode, Constantine's character hurt his back, so he spent much of the rest of the show stooped over, whining and addressing the wrong people because he didn't recognize their shoes. In another episode, Kazan was supposed to stall family members at Nia's home, so she kept repeating the same lines over and over. Both sequences were painfully unfunny.
Similarly, Nia's aunt, played by the deadpan, scene-stealing Andrea Martin, is probably the show's single funniest character, but too often she is saddled with one-liners about Nia and her new husband "having sex." (Although, her delivery is so hysterical, even these lines can elicit a chuckle.)
The sex jokes, by the way, are a disappointment for a show based on a movie that avoided such cheap, easy gags.
Each week I'm also annoyed by the soft, phony laugh track. And I'm not crazy about those silly father-daughter flashbacks.
The biggest, most disappointing surprise, however, is the lead character, played by Vardalos, whom I adored in the film. For some reason, the sitcom has Vardalos overplaying the role, widening her eyes until they look like they'll pop out, shouting lines that don't need to be shouted and, especially in the most recent episodes, getting into "Lucy"-style mischief.
"You're meddling," her husband says in one. I almost expected him to add, "You got some splainin' to do."
Having said all this, "My Big Fat Greek Life" isn't awful or unwatchable. It's still better than most modern sitcoms.
It's just not what it could, or should, have been.
OOPS: In a video column in Wednesday's paper, I wrote that "Hostage Negotiator" was a Warner Home Video release; it's actually a Paramount Home Video release. As the kids say today, my bad.