Thursday is Remake Premiere Night on broadcast TV, with three different networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) debuting shows — Life on Mars, Eleventh Hour and Kath & Kim — they imported from overseas.
Kath & Kim has had the longest journey, and by the looks of the other two series, also the least successful. The remake of the Australian hit bounced around in development for a couple of years before NBC and network co-chairman Ben Silverman — who developed the show as a producer — put it on the schedule. Silverman made his bones as a producer in part by shepherding successful remakes of The Office and Ugly Betty, but whatever alchemy made those shows successful didn’t make it into the K&K mix.
I should note that I wasn’t the hugest fan of the original show either; Gina Riley and Jane Turner’s creation, which aired on the Sundance Channel in this country, could be a little too big and broad for my taste. So it could be that I was never destined to love the NBC version.
The things I did enjoy about the original, though, sprang mostly from the fact that despite their outlandishness, Turner and Riley inhabited their characters — fortysomething and fabulous (at least in her own mind) divorcee Kath and her massively self-centered adult daughter Kim — so well that they felt like real people. And despite their less-than-posh lifestyle and questionable fashion sense, the show never encouraged the audience to laugh at the characters.
That’s not the case here. Kath Day (Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon) is finally seeing her relentlessly sunny outlook and QVC-purchased lifestyle pay off, as her mini-stepper, loud Spandex outfits and I’m-worth-it attitude have helped her land her the man of her dreams, mall sandwich-shop owner Phil Knight (John Michael Higgins). Her daughter Kim (Selma Blair), meanwhile, has left her husband of six weeks, Craig (Mikey Day), because "he wants me to do stuff" — like microwave dinner every now and then — and parked herself on Kath’s couch, where she mows through Doritos and celebrity-gossip shows.
Kim fancies herself a "trophy wife" (she even has a T-shirt that says so) like the ones she reads about in the tabloids and sees on television, somehow not grasping that those women aren’t married to salesmen at big-box electronics stores. So she glowers at Craig when he tells her they can’t eat at Applebee’s every night ("We’re not billionaires," he explains), pouts if she’s not automatically included in Kath and Phil’s dinner plans and then pouts some more when they don’t go to her favorite place.
The show would have us believe that Kim is a product of our celebrity culture, which should be ripe enough territory for comedy. But as written and played by Blair, Kim seems too dense to get that the Lindsays and Britneys of the world have, at least at some point, put forth an effort to attain whatever wealth and fame they have. Simply stalking around the mall with your thong showing isn’t going to cut it.
That sort of disconnect also makes it hard to see why Kath would continue to put up with her daughter’s shenanigans or why Craig would want her back. Some of that might be forgivable if the whole enterprise were funnier, but the first two episodes were pretty laugh-free.
Higgns, a member of the Christopher Guest Players, comes off the best — he seems to know just how to play the show’s awkward, absurdist situations. Shannon and Blair, however, don’t make the most convincing mother and daughter (and it’s not just the closeness in their real-life ages; Turner and Riley are the same age, but they were so at ease with one another that it didn’t matter). You never quite forget that you’re watching two actresses playing mother and daughter.
Kath & Kim‘s aesthetic doesn’t do it any favors either. It’s shot in a single-camera, documentary style, which makes it of a piece with the other NBC Thursday comedies. But because the series doesn’t make a very good case that these are real people, the voyeuristic style ends up working against it, inviting mockery rather than empathy.
The whole enterprise just left me feeling like rather than plucky heroines marching to their own beat, Kath & Kim are simply not the kind of characters you want to spend time with every week.
Kath & Kim premieres at 8:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Oct. 9 on NBC.