A new sitcom on SBS opens a window on the daily realities of multicultural society, writes
‘ PEOPLE just get it; the issues don’t need to be underlined,’’ director Esben Storm says about his new SBS comedy series Kick , the third episode of which airs this week. ‘‘ They are relieved that the show doesn’t wear its issues on its sleeve.’’
Kick follows the intertwining lives of several migrant families as they struggle to combine their cultural heritage with the Australian lifestyle within which they have grown up; a multi- strand narrative interweaving and contrasting a series of intergenerational relationships.
Living on Hope Street ( which intersects with Love Street), largely disenfranchised but never bitter, they try to reconcile their dreams with the dreary struggles of everyday life in suburban Melbourne’s Brunswick East.
While Kick is a series about multiculturalism ( how unwieldy, old- fashioned and bureaucratic the word still sounds), it largely avoids cliches while using humour to celebrate the aspirations of people wedged between cultures.
Storm, a Danish migrant, came to Australia in the late 1950s, an eight- year- old with no English. ‘‘ I grew up on the same sort of streets in Melbourne where the poor migrants went,’’ he says. ‘‘ We came to Australia to live with families of Greeks. All my friends were migrants. We were all from somewhere else, but it was never an issue.’’
While the rhetoric of tolerance has broken down following the 9/ 11 attacks, government policy shifting uneasily from applauding difference to anxious calls for assimilation, Kick lets its characters just get on with their lives. ‘‘ Quite simply, being preachy was our worst nightmare,’’ executive producer Debbie Lee says. ‘‘ We wanted a show where cultural diversity was an assumption, a way of life; we didn’t want the drama to be focused on the issues connected with it.’’
Storm says that merely because his show ( aimed principally at SBS’s younger demographic) is about the lives of migrants, there is no reason to weigh the humour down with the baggage of worthiness.
‘‘ It’s a romantic comedy with a little edge now and then, a serious moment in each episode,’’ Storm says. ‘‘ I didn’t want ethnicity to be too overt, too explicit.’’
I watched Kick a little reluctantly, fearing the trap of overly politicised themes and sentimentalised issues that usually ensnares local television when it deals with multiculturalism. And which usually makes for dreary viewing.
But in Storm’s cleverly contrived 13- part series, Monsoon Wedding meets a wog- humour version of Happy Days , with unashamed echoes of Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham .
Kick exudes a contagious optimism despite the occasional confronting nature of its themes, underlined by the exuberance and visual style of Storm’s direction, characterised by a kind cinema verite spontaneity and intimacy.
Cinematographer Will Gibson ( fresh from shooting movies Wolf Creek and Macbeth ) provides an aesthetic energy with screen- bursting colour and careening camera angles, sliding, edging, wiping and tilting, that matches Kick ’ s social impact.
From the first episode the show quickly settles into a series of chaotic and comic short scenarios, establishing the main locations, familial relationships and basic dynamics of its attractive cast. (‘‘ In romantic comedy you have to be goodlooking as well as funny,’’ Storm says. ‘‘ That’s very rare.’’)
Skittish, vivacious Miki Mavros ( wonderful Zoe Ventoura) has paid off her $ 3000 in parking fines ( though the sullen local police continue to lurk around the neighbourhood), but she still seeks refuge at the home of her parents ( energetic veterans George Kapiniaris and Maria Mercedes).
An unemployed singer, Miki has been working for Joe Mangeshkar ( the rather wet Raji James), a socially recessive Indian doctor who lives in Hope Street with his scatty British girlfriend ( Kat Stewart).
Last week, ( spunky Natasha Cunningham) formed her own soccer team — the Hoperoos — with Miki as manager, and Vietnamese baker Hoa Tran ( irresistible comedian Anh Do) staged his karaoke spectacular in the neighbourhood park, with Miki as the headline act.
This week, Miki lands the part of a hooker in a TV commercial, while Tatania’s show- biz aspirations challenge her loyalty to soccer when she’s offered a gig as lead singer in a group called Dead Fish.
radiates diverse cast using irony and comedy to reflect on their lives in a time when there is a lot of negativity towards migrant communities.
Ventoura, a star in the making, possesses a rare natural presence that spins interest out of thin air. She instinctively telegraphs to an audience that what she says is meant to be funny and that they
Kick should be laughing, even though the lines themselves are not funny. Nicole Chamoun is also terrific as feisty Lebanese- Australian university student Layla Salim. Struggling with her sexuality and her attraction to blonde fencing opponent Jackie Schneider ( Romi Trower), she resolutely tries to remain true to her traditional cultural background.
Ethnic characters, when they appear on commercial TV, are still largely stereotypes — terrorists, greengrocers, cab drivers or drug dealers — though Chantal Contouri achieved fame as the Pantyhose Killer on three decades ago. ( That groundbreaking soapie remains the great cultural melting pot of local TV.)
Commercial TV does not believe it has a brief to reflect cultural diversity, although colour- blind casting — actors of culturally diverse backgrounds cast in everyday roles where ethnicity is not central to the script — is not unknown these days.
TV finds it almost impossible to recognise that actors who don’t look Anglo- Australian, or are from non- English- speaking backgrounds, can also be Australians, even though a different kind of majority inhabits our suburbs.
It’s all about the issue of being Greek or Indian; ethnic actors never get to play a person falling in love,’’ Storm says. Issues of ethnicity dominate their casting rather than the idea that wherever you come from, you are, more or less, the same as anybody else.’’
opens a window on the fascinating multicultural communities of Melbourne’s inner north. And revealing and delightful it is too. Watching it made me realise I know no one with an Arab background, the way 40 years ago I knew no one of Aboriginal, Italian or Greek descent. In fact, I really still don’t. This beguiling show makes me feel as if I’m missing out on something.
Maybe where Australia is going?
Kick, Saturday, 8pm, SBS.
Vivacious: Zoe Ventoura plays the lead character Miki Mavros, an unemployed singer, in the SBS show Kick