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February 25, 2003

My Big Fat Greek Life:   

All the Greek family you want, 
without the messy clean up.
  

The debut of My Big Fat Greek Life was like a disappointing trip to your favorite Greek restaurant. While there were some bright spots, you wished certain things could have been better, some of the items on your plate were completely unnecessary, but on the whole, you'll return, because it's your favorite restaurant and you really have no place to go for Greek food, unless you want to stay in and cook it yourself. 

The first few minutes of the show, before the rolling of the surprisingly unrecognizable theme song and credits (you would have thought they would have jazzed up some old Greek standard or thrown in a bouzouki somewhere) were pretty bland. Nia Vardalos, whose character's name switched from Toula to Nia, has just returned from her honeymoon in Athens with her "non-Greek" husband Thomas (not Ian, as in the movie, and also not played by John Corbett, now portrayed by a slightly less spineless Steven Eckholdt). The jokes and physical comedy were weak and you really didn't see anything that set this show apart from any other sitcom that doesn't make it past three airings. 

However, if you came back from commercial and lasted through the final self-parody of the movie, (pointing out the fact that the non-Greek husband was now being portrayed by a different actor) you saw perhaps the one thing that might save this show, the father Gus' (Michael Constantine) first wisecrack aimed at Nia's non-Greek husband. Sure it was an almost identical line to one in the movie, but it worked, and was even funnier than most of the jokes in the big screen version. Thomas' attempt to stand up for himself may have created the dynamic of father against son-in-law that would have been worth watching, but the writers of the show aren't about to give him a backbone just yet. 

Michael Constantine, as Gus, steals every scene that he's in. He makes this TV show, with his portrayal of the classic Greek father - full of Greek pride, clever, always needing to think that his family revolves and always will revolve around him, and a bit of a whiner when he doesn't get his way, whose bark is worse than his bite. 

While in the movie, it was the matriarche that held each scene together, the writing on this show didn't allow for the mother, Maria (Lainie Kazan), and Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) to shine. Outside of a few good lines, you didn't get the sense that they were going to be the main focus or even enough of a foil to Gus. The rest of the supporting cast, Gia Carides (Nia's cousin, Nikki) and Louis Mandylor (Nia's brother, Nick) were completely useless and failed to bring anything to the table. (Even Joey Fatone would have been a welcome addition just to laugh at him trying to portray a believable Chicago Greek.) The show could be done without them, simply focusing on the interaction between the newlywed couple and the father, with the mother and maybe the aunt there to temper his supposed tyranny. 

What will keep this show going is its ability to come up with storylines week after week and new one-liners for Michael Constantine. There is only so far that you can ever take Greek-American based comedy without it getting repetitive. Still, if you're Greek-American, and missing spending time with your crazy family, you can tune in and borrow this one every Sunday night in the coming weeks. At least you'll know they won't overstay their welcome, because unlike your real Greek family, they'll be gone in a half an hour. 

Read past feature articles