WORLD COM­EDY

A new sit­com on SBS opens a win­dow on the daily re­al­i­ties of mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Graeme Blun­dell

‘ 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).

of

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

Serb- Rus­sian

with

Kick, Satur­day, 8pm, SBS.

‘‘

teenager

cathar­sis,

the

Tata­nia

eth­ni­cally

Num­ber 96

Vi­va­cious: Zoe Ven­toura plays the lead char­ac­ter Miki Mavros, an un­em­ployed singer, in the SBS show Kick

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