Well, American critics appear to be (almost) universally slamming the new US version of one of Australia’s most successful television comedy shows Kath & Kim.
The problems? There are many, but it mostly lies with the acting and characters. In the Australian version, every character is a convincing loser, so much so it is cringeworthy. The characters and plot satirise the Australian subculture “bogan” (pronounced “bow-gn”, with hard “g”). This is a person of low socio-economic status with poor education, little opportunities in life or future prospects of success, residing in the outer metropolitan sprawl of major Australian cities.
Most problematic is the fact that there may not be a straight swap with an American subculture equivalent, and in order for this show to be successful and the dialogue funny, there has to be. Kath and Kim (US) seems to be lost with characters somewhere between rednecks (strangely in an urban setting), white trash and mall culture. Yet, perhaps they should have been more appropriately trailer trash. This confusing mixture simply dilutes the strength needed for the characters and plot. The stereotype being satirised is not black and white and Molly Shannon (Kath) of all people should know how important this is from her work on Saturday Night Live.
Granted, Kath is a tragic of sorts. Kim accuses her of being a ‘loser magnet’ and her leotards suggest an 80’s wannabe, but Kath’s loser qualities, while spoken of, aren’t entirely clear in either her characterisation or the plot (at least in the pilot, anyway).
As in the Australian version, Kim is all too fond of stuffing her face with food. But while Gina Riley’s Australian character of Kim is deliberately buxom and hopeless, Selma Blair places the American Kim as an attractive, good looking trophy wife. It just doesn’t fit.
Selma Blair and Molly Shannon’s acting are both particularly mediocre. One can constantly see the actress behind the character and so all believability instantly goes out the window. You could argue you don’t need an Emmy Award winning actress to pull this one off, but satire requires the actor to first be able to accurately imitate the person they are sending up, then exaggerate and enhance this for comic effect. Here, the US Kath & Kim fails miserably.
Is this a case of lost in translation? Partly yes, because the translation retains many of the concepts in the Australian Kath & Kim, such as Malcolm in the Middlesque inner monologue voice-overs, that seem to be grating with many American critics.
But the script has been heavily Americanised with identifiable places, people and events. So, why hasn’t it worked? Put simply, the script is fairly lame.
To use a colloquialism, the Australian Kath & Kim has been so successful because it so accurately takes the piss out of so many elements of a local subculture. Before a word is spoken, the satire is evident in the opening credits, the clothes Kim wears daily and the completely out-of-fashion home furnishings on the set. It is this attention to details that is severely lacking in the American version.
While the ability to take the mickey out of the less appealing parts of your culture is not uniquely Australian, perhaps Aussies are more readily forgiving of embarrassing aspects of their daily lives and are happy to have a laugh at it, too.
If satire is going to work, it has to be amusing. Kath & Kim (US) simply isn’t funny. Satire has to be cruel and needs to offend in order to succeed, but the bite in this satire just isn’t there. It’s too tame.
Kath & Kim (US) is cringeworthy alright, but sadly in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. Variety Magazine hit the nail on the head claiming American audiences may well be wishing to say “G’Day” to it, but more than likely won’t be able to say “G’Bye” fast enough.