Saturday, September 3, 2022

Acropolis Now (1989-1992)

Australia has a long history of comedy, and has made its fair share of sitcoms. Nowhere near America's output, or even England's, but we're clawing behind! Any country that can make Kath and Kim, and Mother and Son can't be in the dust...

Brash and vain player Jim Stefanidis has recently taken charge of his Greek father's restaurant-The Acropolis. Together with his friend Ricky Martinez and cousin Agamemnon 'Memo' Hatzidimitropoulos, he gives it a radical overhaul, seeking to tap into a new market. It's a success, but not without new hassles week in-week out, from grumpy cooks, to vengeful bureaucrats, annoying relations, and more...

Acropolis Now is an interesting mix. Clearly inspired by U.S. sitcoms, yet bearing unmistakeably Australian D.N.A., in its tone, sense of humour, and homegrown ethnic Aussie comedy. The plots are fairly typical for a sitcom, in a good way, and there's always something to entertain.

The show is a celebration of Australia's ethnic diversity, and showcases the quirks and foibles of Greek Aussies, as well as the discrimination they could face, without ever being heavy or unsubtle. I've heard some decry Acropolis Now as being more more than an endless parade of Wog jokes. These folk have clearly never actually watched the show. While Nick Giannopoulos lays the Wog jokes thick in his films and comedy routines, the show itself really only does so in a couple of episodes.

The first season is great stuff, with good interactions and hilarious scenes. The second follows suit, and while there are certainly awkward moments, as is expected for any sitcom, it's still enjoyable. Things took a bit of a dip in season 3. Never to the point where it was outright bad, but things started getting a bit annoying to me. Things recover a bit by the next season, and it chugs along like this till the sudden end. Overall it had a good run, of 63 episodes. The ideal amount, really! More than the 6-12 England offers, but not as gargantuan as 275 from America!

The main character is Jim, who is entertaining in a dumb kind of way, with some good qualities. He's bearable for the first couple of seasons, but gradually becomes more insufferable as the series goes on. There was one episode where he was absent for the first several minutes, and this break made me realise how good it was to finally get some merciful respite. Thankfully his worst qualities are reined in by season 4, and he remains only slightly obnoxious for the remainder of the show.

Straightlaced uni student Ricky is the straight man to Jim's antics, and the one responsible for keeping the cafe afloat. Of Spanish extraction, he's not exactly hotblooded, but often finds himself acting like a disapproving parent. Memo is a more exaggerated character. Raised in Greece, he's thickly accented and acts like a smooth-talking overly macho guy, who's listened to too much Elvis and uses too much hair gel. He reminded me a little of Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley, with a bit more luck and confidence.

The female lead is Liz, a uni grad turned waitress after getting sorta roped in one day, and enjoying it so much she decides to stay. She has a good character, and is mature and clever enough, without being so stern that she's a wet blanket or anything.

Jim's annoying younger cousin Effie is by far the most remembered cast member here. The characters in Acropolis Now can be varying degrees of obnoxious, but it's Effie who takes the cake. From her shrill voice, to her ugly fashion and garish hair, and her vacuous personality, she's a character you either love or hate-Maybe both.

Like any sitcom, there are unfortunately a few casting switch-ups. Ricky leaving is a shame, but his departure is believable and well-written. His replacement is Alfredo. He's an interesting case, in that he was introduced as a one-off supporting character, several episodes before his status in the cast was upgraded to full-time. This has a positive effect for the show's continuity, making things feel less artificial. As for his character, Alfredo is basically a copy of Ricky, being the smarter more levelheaded Italian/Australian guy, as opposed to the smarter, more levelheaded Spanish/Australian guy. But by the time it dawned on me he was Ricky's replacement, I'd already adjusted to his presence. It of course didn't hurt that he's a pretty likeable character.

Liz departed by the end of season 3, and unlike Ricky, she just disappears without a word. Her replacement is Suzanna, who is at first a tough pill to swallow by virtue of replacing a mainstay, but she quickly proves herself to be a different character, and her motivations for joining the cafe, plus her amusingly antagonistic relationship with Jim work very well. As the show goes on she quickly fits into place, and soon it's like she was always there. In some ways I think she's a better fit when it comes to goofiness than Liz was.

The past history and tension naturally makes Suzanna a shoe-in for a will they-won't they love story, and I thought it was surprisingly cute how loey-dovey this otherwise hostile lady gets. Where it started to lose me though was the love triangle in the final season, when Jim accidentally gets engaged to both Suzanna and another girl. It's pretty awkward, and you know it's not gonna end well, but the worst side effect is that because Suzanna isn't in the know, she's unable to join in with many of the main shenanigans! She kind fades into the background a bit, and I thought lost some identity.

The original head chef is country bloke Skip, who fits in very well, providing a great lighthearted culture clash. He has a few replacements over the years, usually appearing for a few assorted episodes before vanishing from existence. They range from ok to forgettable, with the best by far being Mike, who's a great unconventional female character, and perhaps my favourite in the show!

Two all-new characters who showed up for the final season are Despina and Lars Larson. The former is a sultry Greek expat who shares a fiery relationship with Memo. While she does feel like a late addition, I did mostly like their interactions. As for Lars, he is quite possibly the most annoying character the show ever got! He can be fun at times, and it is a treat seeing an El Brendel type comedy Swede, half a century after it fell out of fashion. However he represents the show's most over-the-top tendencies, in a way that feels very American. He's also a bit of a stalker at times! As weird as he is though, I can't exactly say he's a bad match for Effie.

Perhaps the most galling thing that ever befell Acropolis Now was the ending. It's common knowledge that getting engaged to two women can only end in either death, or a threesome. Naturally Jim is discovered, and smacked by both women, before being laughed at by Effie. However will the show resolve this, you ask? Which girl will he end up with? Or maybe there'll be a twist!...Well we'll never find out, because that's how the show ends. On an incredibly frustrating cliffhanger!

The cast in Acropolis Now all do a fine job. They can be annoying at times, with three particular actors being the big offenders, but these moments don't detract from how good their performances are. In fact it probably highlights them, since it was on purpose. Nick Giannopoulos wavers between loveable doofus and obnoxious prat, while George Kapiniaris may annoy some with his exaggerated voice, but he quickly grows on you. Simon Palomares does well as the straight man, as does Tracey Callander, and later Nicki Wendt. Everyone else is good, from the supporting cast, to guest actors, including a few soon-to-be celebrities.

Mary Coustas does great at making Effie a distinct character, although she often does too good a job, as she can be grating to watch at times, especially as her role grows. Working best in small doses, Effie became the show's most popular and iconic character, to the point where DVD ads show almost exclusively Effie, until a follow-up had to actually say "It's not just Effie, there's also...etc". The character ended up outgrowing the show through a couple of short-lived spinoffs (in a doco style), but these may have taken things too far, and the novelty had well and truly worn off.

The theme song to Acropolis Now is It's a Sweet Life, sung by Kapiniaris. It's a fun tune, sung in a distinct way. The first rendition is the best, while the one used in seasons 2 through 4 is mostly the same, but with more American sounding harmonica, which feels a bit out-of-place for a show about Greek-Australians. Then comes Season 5, which completely re-scores the song. As a new rendition I'm not the biggest fan, but it's a decent track in it of itself.

As for the intros themselves, the first is my favourite, showing some funny 'day in the life' scenes. The second has its moments, but feels a bit overproduced and goofy for me. Season 3 and 4's intros go a lazier route and just show random clips, which isn't bad, but it does highlight just how much of the show is set in the Acropolis! One of those things you never really think about till it's pointed out. The final sequence is a more conventionally abstract intro. Fairly decent, and the characters rock some alright poses.

Acropolis Now is everything you'd expect from a sitcom, but Greek and Australian, both of which are points in its favour! It's worth a watch, unless you have a low tolerance for 'lowbrow' shenanigans. Otherwise, check it out if you can find it...

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