"This show has unusual rhythms. I've done a lot of comedy, and never really had to play rhythms like this where the laugh doesn't quite come where you expect it to or want it to come...I just love it. It's so much more interesting than 'set-up, set-up, joke' for 30 minutes."
- John Michael Higgins
There's something oddly intoxicating about watching Selma Blair eat food. She has a way with her nimble fingers and sensual chewing that casts me under a spell. Her power also works its magic on executive producer Michelle Nader ("She eats better than anybody in the business...it just looks good") and co-star Charlie Day ("She brings a sexiness to chewing") in the audio commentaries. Blair also delivers insults while nibbling on a chip or devouring a cinnamon bun, which probably isn't as easy as it looks.
Those talents mesh perfectly with Blair's trademark demeanor--her blank face and eye roll of scorn are two other skills the actress has mastered, her gorgeous face frequently contorted into some of the most magically memorable expressions ever captured on screen. Both come in handy for her role as a selfish couch potato who spends her days being rude, sleeping, eating and shopping.
Meet the American version of Kath & Kim, a story about two co-dependent, semi-deluded women based on the hit Australian comedy that ran from 2002 to 2007. I know I'm in the minority, but I loved this show. But apparently not enough people did, causing NBC to drop it after one season (boo!). The tone of the series--a female-centric comedy about an out-of-touch (almost cartoonish) mother and daughter, both obsessed with celebrity and bad taste--is a little different from standard sitcom fare, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to it.
On the surface, the characters are exaggerated, the situations silly and the humor--much like Blair's face--is usually deadpan, with most of the laughs coming at the expense of the characters. But if you pay attention, you'll realize that the people are more realistic than you think, and there's actually some heart and soul in the stories.
It's a little Waiting for Guffman (it even has John Michael Higgins, the long-lost brother of Fred Willard!) and a little Romy and Michele's High School Reunion ("Do you have some sort of businesswoman's special?"), two films I loved. I've always enjoyed Blair and Molly Shannon, one of Saturday Night Live's most spirited performers. She, along with everyone else, brings the same energy to this show. Part of the reason Kath & Kim works is that all of the actors fully commit to their zany personas--there wasn't an instant I didn't believe in their insanity, which goes a long way in selling the show's shtick.
I haven't seen the Aussie original, so I can't make any comparisons. For those that scoff about the eight-year age difference between mother Shannon and daughter Blair, note that the age difference between Aussie actresses (and show creators) Jane Turner and Gina Riley is five months. I can only comment on what I see here, and--ratings be damned--this show makes me laugh, a lot.
Shannon is single mom Kath Day, a freelance hairstylist who works out of her tacky Central Florida home (three words: The White Room). She's the kind of woman you might call eccentric ("Miss Day, you seem like the type of person that appreciates the aesthetic value in a pumpkin carriage..."). Her passions include home exercise, musical theater and hosting parties. She never met a leotard or animal print pattern she didn't like, resulting in some memorably gaudy displays.
She's also obsessed with celebrities, a bond she shares with slacker daughter Kim (Blair), a selfish, unemployed brat devoid of feelings, manners, sensitivity and ambition--her mentality forever stuck at age 3. Everything Kim knows relates somehow to TV ("I told you to call that lizard and get car insurance!"). When she isn't watching the tube, Kim busies herself by spoiling everyone's fun, dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes and eating a lot: "Would it make you feel better if you got up and made us some nachos?" she asks her depressed mom.
Their idea of a good time is going to the mall, where the escalator serves as a catwalk for their colorful clothes:
Kath: "I have a boyfriend!"
Kim: "That is why you bought all those new sweaters!"
Kim: "The purple one with the panther is perfect. That one is perfection!"
Kath:"I know! It's like they threw a panther in the air and caught it in embroidery!"
Kath is smitten with new boyfriend (and soon-to-be fiancé) Phil Knight (Higgins), who tries to be cool despite being incurably unhip ("Whoa, slow your roll, player!"). The former fattie struggles with food issues, so it's probably not a good idea that he's the proprietor of a gourmet sandwich shop--where he concocts a delicacy to express his love for Kath: "I was just in the meat lab coming up with a sandwich that's special enough to put on my menu as the 'Kath & Phil'. Description: The sandwich that tastes like the love we make...frontrunner so far: a warm tuna and sausage ciabatta with curly fries."
Phil is an energetic and enthusiastic dork, a polite guy full of positive energy and terrible puns:
Kath: "You know, I make all kinds of pilaf. I once made one with nuts and Craisins."
Phil: "Well, while we're on the subject, you are driving me nuts, and I'd like to...pilaf that robe!"
He's kind of like a slightly dirtier Ned Flanders in human form, and the running gag is that he's gay: His middle name is Leslie, he has a red Miata he calls Little Debbie, he wears tight polo shirts that show off his nipples, he belongs to a men's club that grows rare orchids, he lounges in Kath's silk floral robes and he frequently employs a curious choice of words and expressions ("It's hotter than a bathhouse out there!"). The evidence mounts to near undeniable levels in Episode 16, where we meet his friends and see his home (loving the sculptures on the table!).
Meanwhile, Kim exerts control over whipped Craig (Day), her easily confused estranged husband. The wuss works as a clerk at Circuit Surplus, says "Check it!" a lot and likes to call everyone--and everything--"dude", as in: "Kim, I heard your ankle bracelet and I followed it here. I love you, dude! I miss you so much I can't do anything...I can't even watch TV!"
Constantly rejected by Kim, Craig tries to channel his love into new dog Ginger, a Rottweiler who is more receptive to his affection. "You know I hate dogs!" whines the jealous Kim. "You say you hate everything, Kim. It's hard to know what you really hate." But then she sees dollar signs, leading to a breeding mishap that comes back to haunt Craig ("Kim, you have to tell Craig that Ginger was involved in a gang banging!").
The young couple is also joined by their equally unmotivated friends: Derrick (Jay Phillips) is Craig's best bra, while Kim is constantly annoyed by the presence (and hair) of desperate pal Tina (the very funny Melissa Rauch), who has a few moments of her own--like when she advises Kim how to woo her favorite country singer:
Tina: "You should send Wynona a tape begging her to change her mind. That's what I do whenever a guy dumps me."
Kim: "That is the only good idea you've ever had."
Tina: "Thanks! It totally works. Well, six times out of 10. The other three times I end up naked on the Internet."
Everyone here is either dimwitted or deluded. Words, names and celebrities are frequently mispronounced, misused or misunderstood by Kath and Kim, a joke that sometimes falls flat--especially when they're too obvious or used as short, isolated punch lines ("He comes off as a harmless sandwich man, but he could be evil incarnage."). The gag fares far better when integrated into more meaty exchanges that rely on more than one laugh tactic:
Kath: "What did you think marriage was gonna be, huh? Flying off on your private jet to have cocktails with the Prince of Delmonico?"
Kim: "Well...I didn't sign up for cooking dinner or being interested in how anyone's day was! I'm a trophy wife like Milania Trump and Mrs. Larry King Live!"
In addition to their horrendous fashion sense (watch for lots of thongs and bare midriffs), Kath and Kim are in awe of such fine luxuries as Courtyard Marriotts, Applebees and Pecan Sandies. They also have extremely short attention spans, and are easily distracted by flashy clothes, shiny things, famous people (Suri Cruise is frequently name-checked) or food: "I can't believe you broke up with my mom over a stupid sandwich! I mean, what kind of loser are you?" Kim yells at Phil, her expression quickly changing as her eyes are drawn to the counter: "You have corndogs?!"
The humor is sometimes proudly inappropriate, usually at the hands of Kim. The end of the pilot episode had me in stitches in spite of my better judgment: As Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" blares, Kath excitedly runs around Circuit Surplus looking for Phil, who is professing his love over the sound system. In an effort to point her mom in the right direction, Kim offers this observation: "Mom, over there! Just past the Mexican guy!" I was aghast, but when the camera pans to show us the stranger in a turban, a new level of delightful discomfort and embarrassment was reached.
The show inserts a few brief sequences that rely on zany, off-the-wall humor (Kath's trauma at a funeral, Phil rush to a dumpster, Kath's gay freak-out at the mall) that aren't integrated quite as well; it's much better when it's being semi-realistic, and I love the hip shorthand lingo it develops. Kath & Kim has a great combination of verbal viciousness and visual gags (the "Flying Wedge", a hairstyle inspired by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, had me in stitches), and there are so many hysterical lines ("Isn't that a digital photo?"). Many of them are easy to miss if you aren't paying attention, coming in the most quiet, unexpected moments ("It gets like a million miles to the gallon and it comes with its own case...").
The show thankfully shies away from the "insert joke here" formula, and the few it does attempt work well. And for you dirty birds, there's plenty of carefully placed grossness if you look and listen for it ("Oooh, tacos!"). But it's all balanced with a genuine feeling that keeps things from getting too ridiculous. Ultimately, these oddballs care for and defend each other.
The acting is fantastic, and goes a long way in selling difficult material. Everyone takes their part seriously, fully committing to their crazy characters--resulting in a wide variety of comedy combos that all work thanks to the cast's natural chemistry with each other. You root for Craig, and Day plays the lovable, loyal puppy dog perfectly--you'll want to adopt him despite his desperation. Day is the most pleasant surprise in the cast ("Unknown alert!" he jokes in the audio commentary), his vulnerable voice and mannerisms conveying a sense of hope and frustration that bubbles just beneath the surface. He hates himself for loving Kim, but he can't help it, leading to some pathetic yet hilarious exchanges.
I have always enjoyed Higgins, and he doesn't disappoint in the show's most challenging role. It would be easy to take Craig's colorful persona too far, but Higgins never resorts to extreme parody and keeps the running gag fresh. But the true star of the show is Blair. Kim is a role she was born for--no one plays the cruel, self-absorbed slacker better. Blair's facial expressions, vocal inflections and dry delivery bring funny lines to a new level:
Kim: "We could find sheep to, like, follow me down the aisle, and then serve them as kabobs at the reception after! I bet we could find sheep on, like, craigslist."
Kath: "Oh...I love craigslist!"
Kim: "I wish Craig woulda come up with a list. His name's Craig..."
She introduces so many little touches that fly under the radar, prompting additional laughs on repeated viewings (Kim apparently has trouble winking). Kim also has a viciously funny standoff with a meter maid (the hysterical Sarah Baker) in "Sacrifice" ("What'd I ever do to you?!"), leading to an uncomfortable situation for Craig. Blair gets a few opportunities to show slightly different sides of Kim, as actual ambition and emotion are introduced later in the season ("I'm becoming very confused by you having feelings," observes Kath, to an equally stunned Kim: "I know, right?!"). It's a nice change of pace that shows the writers weren't afraid to show a little growth. More emotion is added in all of the relationships, which prevents things from becoming stale.
Shannon isn't given as much of a "character" as he co-stars, so she doesn't provide quite as many laughs. Some of her lines that are harder to pull off: "What the bedazzle?!" is a semi-catchphrase, while some equally cheesy lines--like a few mentions of extending the "onion branch"--fall flat. The writers also rely on brief voiceovers in some episodes, a technique that rarely works (especially with Shannon). But the actress soars with the more extreme emotions (I love watching her reactions of confusion, disgust and anger). And more than any other character, Kath is the most human and likeable, the only one who can make you feel sad--that's a credit to Shannon, who contributes the show's essential heart (you'll ache for Kath in Episode 2, when she tries to hide her upset feelings).
Guest stars include fellow SNL vet Maya Rudolph, who appears in a handful of episodes as a spacey life coach; Jennifer Coolidge as a community theater diva; Wynona, the subject of "Idols"; and Pam Anderson, who appears in my favorite of the show's signature endings (almost every episode concludes with Kath and Kim lounging on the patio, sipping cocktails and reading the tabloids).
Of the 17 episodes, nine scripts were adapted from the original series. There are hits and misses on both fronts, although two of my least favorite entries are adaptations that come late in the season (the roller derby storyline in "Competition" and the lingerie bit in "Desire" don't quite work as well). My favorite episodes are the final two: "Bachelorette" (an Aussie inspiration) splits up the guys and girls for pre-wedding parties that don't go as expected (watch for a lot of great moments for Rauch's Tina: "They were gently used...I was kind of in a rush"); while finale "Home" (an original entry) has the writing and acting firing on all cylinders as Kath redecorates her kitchen and Kim tries to win back Craig. There are so many hysterical exchanges and situations in the finale (love the bit with the refrigerator!), including one of my all-time favorite lines ever in the history of lines: "An apple?! What am I, an orphan?!"
If you've seen any of the promos for the series, your gut is probably a good indicator of your potential enjoyment. And if you're a woman or gay man, your odds of laughing are greater. The show certainly knows its audience--while it takes place in Florida, the exterior shots used for the transitions to the mall are actually from a stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. It's a location that will be familiar to many of my gay brethren: the corner Starbucks and economy-minded Ramada (nicknamed "Gaymada"; you know you have stories about this infamous hotel, too!) are both located across the street from the 24 Hour Fitness. One of the universe's gay epicenters, the locale will have many gays gasping in delight, along with plenty other gay-themed subplots.
I'm sad to see Kath & Kim disappear. It was a little different, and a perfect match for my sardonic sense of humor. At least the series finale serves as a fitting finish, as if the writers were planning on a possible cancellation. I'll leave you with one of my favorite exchanges, the perfect example of the show's sense of humor:
Craig: "Oh, but check this, okay? If I take one step out this door, you'll never see me again!"
Kim: "...yeah, I will. It's a glass door."
(sigh, I miss it already...)
The 17 episodes--averaging a short 20 minutes each--are presented on 2 discs:
1. Pilot (aired 10/9/08) Kath agrees to let her daughter Kim move back home after her separation from her husband--and has a surprise announcement for her daughter.
2. Respect (aired 10/17608) Kath wants to put her home salon business on the map, and Phil has an idea. Meanwhile, Kim gets Craig fired from his job. Includes 1 deleted scene (:29).
3. Old (aired 10/23/08) Kath becomes worried that she may be too old to have an elaborate wedding. Kim and a friend stalk her husband after Kim suspects he may be cheating. Includes 1 deleted scene (:17).
4. Money (aired 10-30-08) Kath needs money for her expensive wedding, while Kim and Craig try to make their own money by breeding puppies.
5. Dating (aired 11/5/08) Kath is upset because she thinks that she and Phil don't know anything about each other, and Craig gets jealous when Kim decides to try speed dating.
6. Jealousy (aired 11/13/08) Kath believes that Phil's old friend is being too cruel to him, and Kim finds a new errand boy when Craig finally stands up to her.
7. Gay (aired 11/20/08) Kath begins to suspect that Kim may be a lesbian, and Phil decides to remove some unwanted body hair.
8. Sacrifice (aired 12/4/08) Kath turns to Phil's spiritual advisor for guidance, and a jealous Phil reacts by turning to food for comfort. Craig tries to help Kim get the boot removed from her car. Includes 1 deleted scene (:57).
9. Friends (aired 12/11/08) Kath and Phil try to find another couple to hang out with, while Kim talks Craig into suing one of his friends from the electronics store.
10. Florida (aired 1/8/09) Kim is traumatized when one of Kath's clients dies, and she doesn't tell Craig the truth about his dog's litter. Meanwhile, Phil tries to help an obese person lose weight.
11. News (aired 1/22/09) Craig accidentally crashes into Phil's prized car. Kath helps Kim make an audition tape for an anchor position at a local television station.
12. Idols (aired 2/12/09) Kath and Kim go all out to convince Wynonna's business manager and personal assistant that she should visit their home.
13. Celebrity (aired 2/12/09) Kath decides to audition for a role in a community theatre production, and Phil gets Kim a job at Sandwich Island. Includes 1 deleted scene (:38).
14. Competition (aired 2/19/09) Kath and Phil find out that she is still married to her ex-husband, and he won't sign the divorce papers unless Kim agrees to play on his roller derby team.
15. Desire (aired 2/26/09) Kath helps Kim put on a lingerie party, while Phil tries to help Craig impress Kim by giving him a makeover.
16. Bachelorette (aired 3/5/09) Kim and Craig set up Kim and Phil's bachelor and bachelorette parties, with disastrous results. Includes 2 deleted scenes (1:27).
17. Home (aired 3/12/09) Kath redoes her kitchen to impress the judges at the Parade of Homes, and Kim gets upset when Craig doesn't do anything to commemorate their second date anniversary.
The anamorphic widescreen presentation does a nice job of reproducing the broadcasts. There's a soft look to most of the scenes, and warmer orange tones are constantly employed (kind of a like a Florida spray tan!). There's some nice detail (like the freckles on Shannon's skin), and grain is only heavy in some of the brief outside or dark shots (like a roller rink set piece). Overall, a nice looking image.
A 5.1 track is solid with the dialogue and music; there are very few rear effects here, so don't expect anything remarkable. English subtitles are provided.
The real treat here is the collection of audio commentaries: 10 full-length tracks (!), all featuring executive producer Michelle Nader. Here's the rundown of the contributors, who all show great enthusiasm for the show:
- Episode 1, "Pilot": executive producer Michelle Nader with actors Molly Shannon and John Michael Higgins
- Episode 2, "Respect": executive producer Michelle Nader with actors Selma Blair and Mikey Day
- Episode 3, "Old": executive producer Michelle Nader with actor John Michael Higgins
- Episode 7, "Gay": executive producer Michelle Nader with actors Selma Blair and Mikey Day
- Episode 8, "Sacrifice": executive producer Michelle Nader with actor John Michael Higgins
- Episode 11, "News": executive producer Michelle Nader with actor John Michael Higgins
- Episode 12, "Idols": executive producer Michelle Nader with writer Adam Barr and actors Selma Blair and Mikey Day
- Episode 13, "Celebrity": executive producer Michelle Nader with actor Molly Shannon
- Episode 14, "Competition": executive producer Michelle Nader with co-writers Jim Dubensky and Steve Gabriel
- Episode 17, "Home": executive producer Michelle Nader with writer Adam Barr and actors Selma Blair and Mikey Day
All of the musings aren't always specific to the episodes, as certain scenes trigger tangential thoughts about the series and cast in general. All of the tracks are great listens, and are more serious than you might expect. The "Pilot" track reveals that there were actually two versions shot, with the second featuring a huge change in tone and setting (the dialogue was mostly the same). Shannon notes she wasn't initially comfortable with her character, and was thinking too much about the Australian version before finally settling into her own idea of the character.
Nader and the cast all stress that while the show has exaggerated qualities, it's all grounded in the realism of "mall culture America". As for comparisons to the original, Nader notes they are very different shows, and that her version injected an emotional element not found in the original (she's a huge fan of both). Nader--who notes that she wrote the role/series for Shannon, and that much of the material comes from her own life--later says that everyone's expectations of what the show should be changed and grew with the cast, evolving into something different as the season progressed.
I most enjoyed the tracks featuring Blair and Day (whose real voice is the most different from his character). They bounce off each other beautifully and are a real hoot to listen to ("It's just me talking and I'm going nowhere...so someone pick up what I'm putting down!" says Day), providing a great balance of informative thoughts and funny observations without trying to be funny. Blair talks about her "flab" and poor improv skills (and also shares a funny alternative idea for the "Idols" episode which I wish was used), while Day talks about his sweat glands (his Circuit Surplus shirt was "made of heat"). It's sad, though, listening to all of the "next season" references...what could have been! (I'll light a candle for the show...)
Six deleted scenes from five episodes are also provided (in non-anamorphic video; see Episode Guide above for a rundown). The only ones I enjoyed came from "Celebrity" (featuring one of the better moments between Shannon and Rudolph) and "Bachelorette" (with two scenes, including a funny moment between Shannon and Higgins). A gag reel (9:04, non-anamorphic video) provides more laughs. I wish it was longer (there had to be a lot more chuckles), but it's still a lot of fun. Shannon gets the giggles a lot and Day has a great "gay accent", while Blair gets licked by Ginger and--in my favorite moment--gets pegged in the face with a dinner roll. (The first 6:35 are bloopers, while the final 2:30 feature the four leads taping humorous "thank yous" to the crew, with Higgins getting a little dirty.)
It only stuck around for one short season, but the American version of Australia's hit comedy Kath & Kim is fierce and funny. Following a delusional, celebrity-obsessed mother and daughter with questionable taste, the show works because of the convincing performances. The four leads charge into their characters' crazy personas with energy, making it a joy to watch the awkward, uncomfortable situations unfold. The show is geared more toward women and gay men who appreciate a little deadpan humor with their silliness--and anyone who appreciates the perfection that is Selma Blair, whose facial expressions alone put the replay value through the roof. This is a skip for some, and a highly recommended must-have for those on the same wavelength of executive producer Michelle Nader's humor--which Molly Shannon describes as being dry, cynical and dark (a perfect match for me). So I'll average the possible reactions and leave this Recommended.