My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), written by and starring Nia Vardalos, was a “sleeper hit” that managed to gross almost four-hundred million dollars world-wide, making it the highest-grossing American rom-com in history, as well as one of the most profitable! The movie also earned Vardalos an Oscar nomination (for her screenplay), and plenty other critical plaudits to boot… so, yay for her! I haven’t actually seen it, so I can’t really comment… but I have just forced myself to watch all seven episodes of the spin-off/cash-in sitcom, My Big Fat Greek Life (2003) (for reasons I’ll explain later). Apparently Vardalos originally pitched the “Wedding” premise as a TV series, before turning it into a screenplay… and critics at the time noted that the movie sometimes felt like a “sitcom”… so it’s rather hard to fathom why this show should suck so hard. My confusion is summed up rather nicely by a Variety review comparing the two iterations: “Sadly, whoever missed out in the theater will be scratching their head wondering why this piffle of a project was the talk of 2002 and how it became the most profitable indie hit in history. But they should ponder all of that on the way to Blockbuster, where the movie, a much more pleasant endeavor, is available on DVD.” Noted.
From what I’ve read, it would seem that several significant changes were made during the transition to a smaller screen (including character names, occupations and living situations), so it can’t really be considered a direct continuation of the story… and judged purely on its own merits, by an ignorant newbie like myself, the whole thing just comes off like a pish-poor Everybody Loves Raymond clone. To be honest, I’ve never been a particularly big fan of that show either, because watching a dysfunctional family grinding each other’s souls into the dirt isn’t really my idea of a good time… but I’d never question the quality of the writing or the acting. Compared to Raymond, this show just seems like hopelessly lightweight piffle, beamed in from an earlier, more innocent age, when writers were happy enough with one painfully obvious gag per page, and actors tried to broadcast every emotion to the back of the theatre! I don’t know how large a part flashbacks play in the original movie… but without a doubt they were the most irritating and unnecessary part of this series. They had absolutely no bearing on the plots, and just played like the sort of “gentle” (i.e., not funny) comic strips you’d find in the back of a magazine aimed at pensioners, right under an advertisement for walk-in baths or commemorative plates. And it was just disturbing to see the elderly actor who played Nia’s father paired with the child actress playing her in the flashbacks. I mean, you can’t make a man look twenty years younger, just by slapping a thick black wig on his head! It’s not magic!
Despite her shameless, muppet-y mugging, I actually found Vardalos quite endearing here… she doesn’t get anything especially funny to do or say, but she does come off as a very warm and charming character. Weirdly, in a recent interview with the LA Times about a movie she’s currently co-writing with Tom Hanks, she describes herself as a person “with average to middling looks”, but I happen to think she’s much, much cuter than that. Then again, I do have a weakness for brunettes with doe eyes and prominent noses, so I’m naturally biased. Since she was also a co-witer and executive producer on the show, she really has to bear some of the blame for the poor scripts she had to work with… and the Metacritic ratings for her subsequent movies have taken a serious dip towards the red… but I’d definitely be interested in seeing more of her work as an actress. I have a sneaking suspicion she could be quite funny, if she were actually given some half-decent jokes to deliver!
As for the rest of the cast: I was immediately struck by Andrea Martin, the actress who played ‘Aunt Voula’. She was the only character who managed to make me laugh out loud… pretty much every time she appeared, in fact… and I suspect that had more to do with her performance, than the writing. She also seemed oddly familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place her until I checked IMDb, and discovered that she’d previously appeared in Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), playing the eponymous band’s hysterical manager, ‘Phyllis Stein’. “I could have your job!!!” Apparently she’s also an accomplished stage performer, voice artist and sketch writer, with two Emmy Awards for “Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program” under her belt! For all I know, she may have even punched up her own dialogue here… or at least ad-libbed a line or two? There has to be some explanation for why Voula was such an oasis of comedy, in an otherwise barren and mirthless land. Meanwhile, her on-screen daughter was played by Gia Carides (of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me fame) who I’m planning to write a little more about in a future post… which is why I bought this DVD in the first place. She doesn’t really get much to do here, besides flash her abundant cleavage, gossip and bicker, but it was nice to see her again all the same. Especially in that leopard-print outfit she wore in the second episode. Hotcha! Apparently, the only missing cast member from the movie was John Corbett (of Sex and the City fame), who had already committed to star in a show for FX called Lucky. While it’s easy to see how his presence would have been a boon to this series, it’s impossible for me to imagine him playing the character of Vardalos’s on-screen husband as he appears here. It would have been like bottling lightning to use it as a fridge light… if you see what I mean.