Kath and Kim revolves around the banal suburban lives of the title characters, a clueless mother and daughter possessed of prodigious vanity and stupidity. As The Office demonstrates, it’s possible to make a smart comedy about dumb people. Kath and Kim, however, is not smart or very comedic.
A remake of a popular Australian series of the same name, NBC’s Kath and Kim centers on the disruption that descends on middle-aged Kath (Molly Shannon) when her lazy, narcissistic daughter Kim (Selma Blair) returns home after her short-lived marriage falls apart. Apart from this premise, the American series is not much like the original. First. It’s missing the first series’ witty satire, which used its dense protagonists to comment on the preoccupations of the middle class. The Aussie Kath and Kim’s exaggerated consumerism and obsession with self-improvement parodied the same impulses in the greater culture to humorous effect.
Kath and Kim are blissfully unaware of their own absurdity, as when they gleefully discuss the benefits of global warming — they can get faster tans — in the first episode. But it’s hard to feel sympathetic toward characters shown such condescension by their own show. Weren’t jokes about going to Applebee’s and the mall already old, like, five years ago? The series’ one overt attempt at timely satire takes the form of Kath and Kim’s relentless interest in celebrities. Each episode ends with them flipping through the tabloids and commenting on what they read. The premiere episode closes with Kath announces she’s supporting breast cancer because every celebrity needs a pet cause. Again, the show underscores its point — apparently its only point — that the women are narcissistic and juvenile.
It’s possible to describe some moments as “funny,” even as they are also familiar. But when Kath visits a gay nightclub to convince herself she isn’t too old to have fun and gets relationship advice from a trio of wise drag queens, the joke is based on Kath’s futile efforts to stay young, or at least feel that way. While the self-help, diet, and exercise industries are surely big targets, the series zeroes in the clueless individual rather than the culture that promotes her lack of curiosity.
The individual performers, enthusiastic as they seem to be, are hardly helped by this approach. Shannon and John Michael Higgins (who plays Kath’s new boyfriend, Phil Knight) are both used to playing lovable buffoons (Shannon during her time at Saturday Night Live and Higgins in his appearances in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries). But their time is largely wasted here. Blair enthusiastically stuffs her face as the sweets-addicted Kim, but everyone’s efforts go pretty much nowhere.
There are sight gags to be had from Kath’s penchant for thong leotards and occasional laughs in Kim’s total lack of decorum. But she might as well be speaking for the rest of us when she announces that Phil’s favorite joke — marrying Kath, whose last name is Day, would “turn day into night” — is “getting old already.”