Kath & Kim: articles

US take on Kath & Kim fails to amuse TV critics

The original Kath and Kim - Jane Turner, left, and Gina Riley - and their American incarnations, right, played by Molly Shannon, standing, and Selma Blair.

The original Kath and Kim - Jane Turner, left, and Gina Riley - and their American incarnations, right, played by Molly Shannon, standing, and Selma Blair.

The verdict on America's foxy morons is that they're as funny as luke-warm tuna pie.

AMERICA'S most influential TV critics don't have "noice" things to say about the US version of Australian hit Kath & Kim.

The powerful NBC network has transplanted the duo to Florida and will begin screening the comedy series on Thursday, October 9. But the opinions of the chief TV critics at The New York Times and trade journals Variety and The Hollywood Reporter suggest it may not last long.

Variety's Brian Lowry was brutally succinct. "If this was a major hit in Australia," he said, "then something has been seriously lost in translation."

Early reports by analysts pegged Kath & Kim as one of the most likely shows to be axed, and the Reporter's Barry Garron agrees.

"I don't think it's going to be a hit right out of the box, and I'm not sure it will be a hit ever," he said. "I don't foresee it lasting the season. It won't be the first (axed) — it's not dreadful, but it hasn't got staying power."

The 30-minute episodes will compete against the second half of Survivor: Gabon and Ugly Betty and are sandwiched between NBC comedies My Name Is Earl and the US version of British hit The Office.

Kath & Kim could be a success if large audiences for other comedy shows tune in. "But I don't see that happening," Garron told The Sunday Age.

"We have a history of adapting overseas formats — some are big successes and others are downright failures. This is in between, but a little closer to the failure side."

The Times' Bill Carter was a big fan of the original Australian series, which ran in New York on a pay-TV channel, but feels the adaptation lacks laughs.

"Many of the elements it used are not there in the US show. It's a really hard show to pull off. The characters are a little off-putting," Carter said. "It's basically not funny enough."

The critics' chief complaint is with the character of Kim, played by Gina Riley in Australia and Selma Blair (Hellboy, Cruel Intentions) in the US. "The (US) creators wanted this to be a broad version, a broad comedy. It's much more about the strained mother/daughter relationship," he said.

"The big difference is the Kim character is very shrill, unappealing. That's a problem … (She's) incredibly selfish and gets in the middle of her mother's new relationship. She comes across as very one-note. She's particularly, well, dumb."

Advertising for the series has played up this aspect. A sign on a bus plying the Flatiron business district in New York — named after the famous triangular building — has Kim suggesting they get their "hair straightened" there. A sign near the Lincoln Tunnel prompts Kim to ask whether the 19th-century President Abraham Lincoln dug the roadway.

Garron said the characters, particularly Kim, are comparable to those in a sketch comedy or a skit.

"In a series you generally need one or two characters who are identifiable and likeable, to make you want to watch them week after week," he noted.

"(Kim) seems to be fussing with everyone in the show. She doesn't seem to be able to get along with any of them for more than 10 or 15 seconds. Which is a good character for a skit, because we all know people like that, but it's such an exaggeration."

The producers dropped Magda Szubanski's character of Sharon Strzelecki, although Kim does have a put-upon female friend in the second episode.

A spokeswoman for the Seven Network said the episodes sent to media were "rough cuts". Some portions of the show were re-shot during production and changes may be made before the show hits television screens.

Carter praised the work of Molly Shannon, who portrays the Kath role originated by Jane Turner. But it isn't enough to win his support. "In a comedy like this you've got to go all out," he said. "I'm in a position most Americans are not in (having seen the Australian series). I think they're not doing enough with it. It's just not quite there."

The US version will premiere in Victoria on Sunday, October 12, on the Seven Network, where the characters originated and the fourth series screened in 2007 to huge ratings.

Elsewhere on American TV are two local success stories. Crime drama The Mentalist, starring Australian Simon Baker, drew 15.5 million viewers and beat ratings behemoth Dancing with the Stars.

Third in the same timeslot was science-fiction drama Fringe, fronted by Australian actress Anna Torv (The Secret Life of Us). The series, from Lost creator J.J. Abrams, airs on the Fox network and saw its audience jump 46% in its second week, to 13.3 million viewers.

What they're saying

"If this was a major hit in Australia then something has been seriously lost in translation" Variety

"It's not dreadful, but it hasn't got staying power." The Hollywood Reporter

"It's basically not funny enough." The Times

By Daniel Ziffer
September 28, 2008
The Age