Screen Savors: Not our cup of tea

There was a great little diner in the bowels of the 42nd Street subway station that made a killer grilled cheese and had boffo egg creams. However, we don't think anyone's making a TV series about it, nor should they have made one about Angelo's, a London café at the center of Xtra HOT's new Wednesday night (10 p.m.) comedy series that's not our cup of tea, to put it mildly. Lately, comedies about bars or cafés where everybody knows your name is the in thing. Even Channel 10 has introduced Hamakom (The Place) - a drama focusing on a Tel Aviv eatery. But a weekly or even nightly visit to Cheers was something to look forward to, with each character a world unto him or herself. That's hardly the case in this British clunker from Channel Five. Here, old-school Italian widower Angelo (Steve Brody) runs a coffee shop in the heart of London, aided by his rebellious daughter Maria (Shelley Longworth). (Hmmm. Italian. Daughter's name. How long did it take the writers to come up with that one?) Angelo's a swell guy for a racist who likes to call phone-in shows and complain about the influx of foreigners, unaware that Maria's dating a black fellow behind his back. We're apparently supposed to care about the regulars who hang out at Angelo's, such as married cops Karen and Dave, who've been trying unsuccessfully to have kids, leading to what Karen describes as plentiful if "very functional" sex. There's a street performer who went to school with Jude Law ("he could never impro") and has a crush on Maria; an unemployed middle-aged man named Russell who nurses his tea while hiding from his wife; and various other types passing through. Unfortunately, at least in the debut episode, none were particularly funny. The only exception was a totally off-the-wall minicab driver who eases a fare's concerns by noting that "you're not insured, I'm not insured, the cab's not insured," and assuring him that "I'm saving myself for the right guy - 'The One' - before I allow… carnal relations." Maria fancies herself a singer, but her attempt to cash in on an accident suffered by the leader of her boyfriend's band falls about as flat as the widebody waitress's voice. The only thing worse was her airhead friend Alicia's dancing, which led one homey to suggest "you shouldn't disrespect yoself like dat." Too bad he didn't offer that advice to the writers. Meanwhile Karen and Dave, who are partners both on and off the job, are discussing with their doctor exactly when Dave manages to get away from her to masturbate twice a day. Karen also wonders aloud if their inability to conceive is because Dave's testicles are "the size of a falafel, maybe." Thanks - put us off one of our favorite snacks, why don't you! Yes, there are nice shots of Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus and some other spots around London, but if we wanted a travelogue we could've rented one. Angelo's, featuring pictures of celebrities and the royal family on the walls, is certainly a place where everybody knows your name - but after the first episode, one wonders whether that's necessarily a good thing. When a representative of an American Starbucks-like coffee shop makes Angelo an offer to buy the place, even she admits it was only the location that interested them. It certainly couldn't have been the rather uninteresting regulars or the script, which barely raised a grin except for that harrowing cab ride. We asked an Xtra HOT rep to explain what the attraction was, and he said: Obviously he's been drinking a LOT of coffee. The Brits have supplied us with plenty of great comedy, from The Office to Monty Python, and plenty in between. Here's hoping Xtra HOT's next shopping expedition comes home with more than just the coffee grounds at the bottom of the programming pot.