Pizza: articles

Pizza fails to rise

IT IS Monday night. The official ratings are on a two-week Easter break, so some of the networks are not trying very hard. Why should they? Channel 9 has repeats of its two top shows, Friends and Spin City and is holding on to its supply of fresh episodes until the people meters in about 600 Melbourne homes are fired up again next week. Ten is showing old episodes of its hit import Law & Order.

Seven, to its credit, has gone against the trend. In the Olympic year, the adrenalin is pumping. The success of Popstars, the improved performance of All Saints, the network’s higher ratings in the late evening timeslots with shows like Cold Feet, Buffy, Angel and Providence, the first signs that The Game might really work—all of those factors have built momentum. And even during Easter, Seven wasn’t going to let it fizzle out.

So, on Monday, we have new episodes of Ally McBeal and The Practice. Not a repeat in sight. The ABC is doing the right thing by viewers, too—no repeats until 11pm. But it is SBS that really surprises. It goes one better than Seven and the ABC, using the non-ratings period to launch a new Australian comedy series.

SBS has tried comedy before, but it has been more worthy than funny. Remember that sitcom about a house full of disabled teenagers? Worthy. Bold. A breakthrough. Pity it wasn’t very funny. Pizza (Mondays at 9pm), however, is the first home-grown SBS comedy series that is simply that—a comedy without any other pretensions.

Some of the characters speak with an accent, in line with SBS’s multicultural mission statement. But it’s not overtly “ethnic”. Pizza shops tend to be run by Italians, so this series about three blokes who run a pizza shop and a home-delivery service naturally features people who look and sound Italian.

There is no prozelytising about ethnic tolerance, no patronising messages about the contribution that immigrants have made to Australia’s way of life. It’s written and played for laughs. It’s a big, dangerous world out there, and pizza delivery boys are on the front line, facing whackos on every call-out. The possibilities must have looked endless. In fact, it’s precisely the sort of concept that I can imagine any of the commercial networks entertaining.

The sad news, however, is that in the end no commercial network would have touched this show. Great idea. But sorry, it doesn’t work. It’s not the least bit funny. Paul Fenech, who created the show and gave himself a starring role as pizza delivery boy Pauly, tried so hard to cram as much as possible into each episode that he did not have time to check that it drew a laugh.

The biggest problem is that it’s more a collection of skits than a seamless sitcom with a beginning, a middle and an end. Few scenes last much more than a minute. In the first episode, for example, we had pizza deliveries to a secret military installation in suburban Sydney, an S&M party and a rock group’s jam session. But we dwelt only briefly at each. As well, there was a continuing storyline about a skateboarder who always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time—wherever he went, he was skittled by one of the pizza delivery vehicles.

This crash-through-or-crash approach did not succeed. There is no merit in being frenetic for the sake of it. The show simply looked messy and directionless. There certainly was no point to the constant obscene dialogue that was bleeped out, anyway. And why did it have to be so graphically violent? Fights, blood gushing from the head of the injured skateboarder. Funny? No.

Normie Rowe, Kamahl, Barry Crocker, Alison Whyte—all of them make guest appearances. They must have owed someone a favor because in a year’s time, they won’t be putting this show on their CVs. Maybe Annalise Braakensiek will, though. She’s the aspiring Sydney actress and celebrity partygoer who appeared recently in the ABC documentary series Bondi.

Famous for being photographed in a bikini, and for saying more often than anyone else that she really wants to be taken seriously as an actress, she probably considers her guest appearance in Monday’s debut episode of Pizza as a big break. Don’t kid yourself, baby. It was your body they wanted, particularly at the S&M party, not your mind.

No, Pizza is an amateurish, grubby and unfunny bit of splodge that looks as though it was cooked on a budget of $23.48 a week. SBS was right to consider it. But like the comedy disaster of 1999, the ABC’s Dog’s Head Bay, it should never have been put to air. SBS should throw it in the compost bin.

By Ross Warneke
April 27, 2000
The Age