Kath & Kim: articles

BBC to air cult show that is a world away from Neighbours

Successful Australian sitcom exports have traditionally been rarer than an English victory against the country’s cricket team. But that could change from this week when UK viewers get their first mainstream taste of the acerbic sitcom Kath & Kim.

The brutally funny look at the underbelly of aspirational middle-class surburbia, created by and starring two of the country’s best-known comedians, Jane Turner and Gina Riley, has been a huge hit domestically.

Article continues Inspired by Sylvania Waters, the fly on the wall docusoap credited with setting the reality TV bandwagon in motion in the early 1990s, it chronicles the daily lives of fortysomething divorcee Kath Day and her self-obsessed daughter, Kim.

Its mockumentary style has already attracted comparisons with The Office, although its creators say that the only parallel with the Ricky Gervais show is that “both are funny”.

Other critics have said it is closer in style to The Royle Family or I’m Alan Partridge and draws from the same well of antipodean humour as the big screen hits Muriel’s Wedding and Strictly Ballroom.

Taylor and Riley said they grew up watching Absolutely Fabulous, Victoria Wood and French and Saunders but were keen to make Kath and Kim resolutely Australian in tone. “We made the show so Australian - often before people tried to make things too generic,” Riley said.

Its three series to date have topped the ratings charts for the ABC network and the public broadcaster hopes its success will translate internationally. “It’s been a very pleasant surprise. As everyone knows, not too many Australian sitcoms have travelled well,” said Turner.

The show has already garnered a cult following and critical praise after airing on the digital channels Living and Ftn in the UK, and from Thursday the first series will be shown on BBC2.

“Kath & Kim is a brilliantly observed, funny and original gem of a sitcom,” said the BBC’s head of acquired series, Sue Deeks. The show has also been sold to the US, Canada and 10 other countries.

In the first episode, Kim walks out on her husband of two months to return to her mother’s townhouse, much to Kath’s chagrin. Viewers are also introduced to the other key characters, including Kim’s put-upon, accident-prone “second best friend”, Sharon, and Kel, Kath’s “hunk of spunk” boyfriend and a butcher.

“We’d worked together for years and years and we wanted them to do the show. We wanted the key cast members in the show to be comedians first rather than actors,” Turner said.

The characters were already well known to Australian audiences from the sketch shows Big Girl’s Blouse and Something Stupid. Five years ago Turner and Riley were given licence by ABC to create a new sitcom and they fleshed out the world of Kath and Kim into a longer format.

“The first review was really bad. But that was the only bad one we’ve had. There were big news features in the papers asking whether this was good for Australia. People were stopping us in shopping centres to tell us they loved it - it really touched a nerve,” Riley said of the show’s debut.

They said the show, set on the outskirts of Melbourne, turns the spotlight on a stratum of Australian society little seen on television, a million miles away from the twee drama of soap imports Neighbours and Home and Away.

“We wanted to have a real documentary feel about it. That middle class world doesn’t get sent up very much: it tends to be the working class. It’s where Dame Edna began,” said Turner.

Guest stars including Kylie Minogue, who was invited to appear after Turner heard her waxing lyrical about the show on the radio, and Rachel Griffiths have been eager for cameo roles.

The surest sign of any comedy’s success is when its catchphrases start echoing around the nation’s offices and pubs. BBC executives will be listening intently for Kath’s “look at moiye [me], look at moiye, look at moiye” mantra as a sign that the show can emulate The Fast Show and Little Britain.

Australia’s gifts to TV viewers


The soap, which celebrates its 20th birthday this year, became an unexpected hit for the BBC in the mid-1980s. Set in Ramsay Street, the gentle trials and tribulations of the residents attracted record teatime ratings in 1987 for the marriage of Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene (Kylie Minogue) At the height of its success, several stars used their popularity to launch pop careers, although only Minogue enjoyed lasting success.

Home and Away

Faced with the huge success of Neighbours, ITV bought up rival soap Home and Away. Featuring a similar mixture of tanned youngsters and interfering “olds” and set in the seaside town of Summer Bay, it too became a huge hit. It was poached from ITV by Five in 2000.

Sylvania Waters

A controversial co-production between ABC and the BBC, this fly-on-the-wall documentary was credited with starting the reality TV trend. It followed bickering Noeline Baker and Laurie Donaher and their largely adult offspring, taking its name from the harbourside southern Sydney suburb where they lived.

Prisoner: Cell Block H

A favourite with students and insomniacs, Prisoner was derided for its wobbly sets and outlandish plots but had a loyal following around the world. It ran for 689 episodes between 1979 and 1987 and ITV continued to air late-night reruns for years. Following the lives of the female inmates and officers at Wentworth Detention Centre, it caused occasional controversy for hard-hitting storylines.

Sons and Daughters

Another international hit from the Grundy stable that later produced Neighbours and Flying Doctors, this cheesy 1980s soap followed the intertwined lives of the working-class Palmers and the well-off Hamiltons. It aired on ITV in a daytime slot.

By Owen Gibson
May 09, 2005
The Guardian