Snide but not smart, “Kath & Kim” will likely leave American audiences scratching their heads, wondering what Australians saw in the concept — or if something was seriously lost in translation. The producers have sought to give the project a Yank accent mostly by having their low-class protagonists reference National Enquirer-type gossip about U.S. stars, but mostly the show irritates more than it amuses. Most fans of the better NBC sitcoms surrounding it who say “G’day” to the show probably won’t be able to say “G’bye” fast enough.
The premise is so slim as to explain why this Reveille transplant struggled to find its footing in what was said to be a rather tortured adaptation process. Kath (Molly Shannon) is a single mom, having entered into a new relationship with sandwich-shop owner Phil (John Michael Higgins), who coos at her until you’re meant to throw up. Their excitement about this new love is tempered, however, when her grown daughter Kim (Selma Blair) — a self-proclaimed “trophy wife” — returns home, following a tantrum she throws because her husband Craig (Mikey Day) is not spoiling her enough.
“We can’t go to Appleby’s every single night,” Craig protests meekly. “We are not billionaires!”
From there, well, “Kath & Kim” pretty much just sits there. Shannon is a gifted sketch player with “Saturday Night Live” credentials but brings no dimension to her character in a way that might help carry a series. The show’s fate thus rests almost entirely upon Blair, whose garishly dressed Kim is shallow, self-obsessed, stupid and petty. She looks fine in those ultra-short skirts, but the fitful fun of her self-obsessed woman-child is offset by the annoying quirk of listening to a grown woman speak and behave like she’s a 6-year-old.
Whatever lingering debt the show owes to its original template has also resulted in some awkward elements, including occasional internal monologues by both title players that are as empty, banal and unfunny as when they’re actually talking. Nor are matters much improved in the second episode, in which Kath and Phil’s relationship progresses despite her jealous snit and concerns about growing older.
Given NBC Entertainment co-chair Ben Silverman’s former ties to the company, the show feeds perceptions that the network stocked up on Reveille titles, which will only make the potential failures more conspicuous.
Granted, comedy characters needn’t be likable to be funny (see “The Office”), but being tolerable company helps. “Kath & Kim” will air in Australia a few days after premiering in the U.S., and the response there should be interesting. Because from a domestic vantage point, NBC’s bid to bag thunder from down under is initially, to borrow an Outback expression, a pretty pissweak brew.