Kath & Kim: articles

Noice one, Kath

A smattering of gems mercifully adds some sparkle to end-of-year viewing.

About this time every year we begin the inexorable slide towards the end of ratings. Yep, that wasteland of reruns, shocking US rubbish that didn’t make the cut with the rest of the reasonable US rubbish and—brace yourself—Walker, Texas Ranger.

Before we hit the skids, however, there are a few last cards to play in the TV poker game. The final episodes of Friends, the final episodes of Sex and the City, a couple of inexplicably popular first-run episodes of CSI and—drum roll, please—the long awaited new series of Kath & Kim (ABC, Thursday).

Barely a few frames into the first episode—we noted with pleasure the addition of Cujo the dog and newborn Epponnee Rae to the credits—and we were back in suburban Fountain Lakes, where fashion victim Kim (Gina Riley) was coming to terms with motherhood, and long-lost deadbeat Gary Poole (Mick Molloy) was coming to terms with fatherhood.

As Kim, clad in a pair of eye-poppingly inappropriate skin-tight pants, discussed the virtues of her new status with her second-best friend Sharon (Magda Szubanski) the new mum very nearly drove off without the most important baby accessory in the book—the baby herself.

It took a few moments to regain the rhythm of the past two series, a process assisted greatly by the ABC repeating the eight episodes of series two in the lead-up to this week’s premiere.

The unlikeable Poole, who apparently abandoned Kath (Jane Turner) and one-day-old Kim to run off to Hong Kong with pool model Wendy Patterson (how long before she turns up, then?), is back in Fountain Lakes, ensconced in Kath’s life, house and ensuite.

The third season of a comedy as delicately structured as Kath & Kim can often be make or break. Some, luckily, mature nicely, while others don’t make the transition into middle or old age at all well. Absolutely Fabulous, for example, is a great example of a very successful comedy which lost its way, albeit only briefly, by listening too hard to the punchlines (“Sweetie, darling” and the like) rather than the mechanisms that structured the comedy in the first place. While it regained its momentum in its most recent (fifth) series, there were times in its third and fourth series that many viewers and critics felt it had lost the sharpness of its first handful of episodes.

It is clever, then, that writers Riley and Turner do not load the Kath & Kim scripts with their now-ubiquitous one-liners, leaving it instead for the media to make a meal of “noice, different, unusual”, while the scripts remain sharp, fresh and underplayed. It may well be the key to ensuring they keep delivering the goods for a few seasons yet.

One of the great strengths of this show is its extraordinary supporting cast. The characters are brilliantly written and the performances are first class. Some writer/performers demand ownership of the script’s best lines, but Riley and Turner seem generous in handing some episode-stealing moments to their castmates. Of note are Glenn Robbins as the polyester-panted Kel, Peter Rowsthorn as the perennially mistreated Brett, and Szubanski’s dark and tormented Sharon.

Sharon, created by Szubanski for the Kath & Kim prequel, Kim’s Wedding (from the sketch comedy series Big Girl’s Blouse), is wonderfully layered, and occasionally laid bare with glimpses of her pain. It’s a performance which is delivered beautifully, and with so much pathos that it hurts to watch.

Marg Downey, as marriage celebrant Marion, is particularly hilarious—Downey plays it with such a sense of the surreal that you literally can’t take your eyes off her while she’s on camera.

Having shed her clothes in the last series, and turned something as simple as a mug of Jarrah into champagne comedy, Marion is a rising star to rival Pru and Trude, Turner and Riley’s snooty antidote to the suburban punchlines in the series.

Thankfully, long-lost estranged husband Gary was dispatched within the episode and Kath and Kel were left putting their marriage back together.

With the discovery that Marion was unqualified to marry anyone, not to mention, as Kath so delicately put it, “a boob”, it would appear that Australia’s favourite suburban mum is single again, and living in sin with Kel. (And with Gary off with the cash borrowed against Kim and Brett’s house, the new parents have found themselves back in the Day-Knight house, promising seven more fiery episodes.)

Kath & Kim is a real prize in television. Its characters, while played for comedy, have a convincing depth. If the first episode is any measure, then this series will be a winner.

By Michael Idato
October 09, 2004
Sydney Morning Herald