On Friday night I watched a tape of two NBC comedies. The first was the premiere episode of Saturday Night Live's Thursday Weekend Update. It did not give me a headache. It wasn't very good, and I was hard pressed to find a laugh without Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, but it didn't give me a headache. Then I watched the other NBC comedy Kath & Kim and my head started to ache. As the half hour progressed, the pounding got worse. When that show ended it was time watch the latest episode of Life. It took a little bit but as if by magic the headache started to go away. The headache test doesn't fail.
I am not going to give an episode recap of the first episode of Kath & Kim. I have no desire to relive that memory, and it was a basic pilot episode designed to set up the characters. It was something about Kath Day, who is described by her daughter Kim as being a loser magnet, being exultant about her new romance with Phil who owns a mall sandwich shop. At the same time Kim has broken up with her husband of a few weeks (days? – with Kim it could be either), Craig because he wants her to "do things" like microwaving supper and asking him how his day was. Kim has decided to move home only to discover that Kath has turned her old room into a home gym. There are some problems about Kim's romance with Phil because he sees her eating a sandwich from another shop in the mall, but by this point my head was really throbbing and I didn't write down much more about the show.
Instead, let's try to find out what went wrong with this show. It's not the actors. Both Selma Blair, who plays Kim and Molly Shannon are talented actresses, although Blair seems to be known more for non-comedic roles while Shannon appeared on Saturday Night Live for a number of years and has made appearances in a number of sitcoms. Of the two supporting players the actor who plays Phil – John Michael Higgins – is by far the more experienced. He has appeared on a number of TV series including several episodes of Arrested Development as well as working on the Christopher Guest movie A Mighty Wind where he also arranged some of the music. Mikey Day, who plays Craig is primarily known for his work in improve comedy.
So if you can't legitimately blame the actors, where does the problem lie? Well the scripts aren't really that funny and the situations that the characters are placed in are, well they're pretty dumb, but the real fault goes deeper than that. There is nothing at all about any of the two main characters that is likable, and very little about the two males in the cast works either. Kim is so awful that the term "spoiled brat" doesn't really cover it. Her great ambition is to be a trophy wife and when Craig, who works for a Circuit City type store in the mall, doesn't cater to her every whim – presumably like her mother did – she left him. Kath is almost as self-centred, although her major problem is that she keeps falling in love and most of her romantic choices are wrong. She's not particularly bright and is easily distracted by whatever comes into her flighty little head. Neither woman is particularly happy about not getting her own way – the both have a tendency to sulk at the drop of a disappointment.
I think a major part of the problem is that this is yet another imported series – this time from Australia – and this time around the American "creators" don't have any real understanding of the series that they're trying to recreate for the North American audience. The original Australian series was created by series stars Jane Turner and Gina Riley and was based on skits that the two had done for almost eight years on a number of comedy shows. These in turn were based on a number of Australian "fly on the wall" reality shows and were essentially a satire of aspects of those shows. As a result the characters were not only well understood by creators/actors, but they had a basis that viewers could identify with. On the American series the writers have no connection with the characters. All they have to base their version of the characters on is the Australian version of the series and they seem to have taken all the most prominent characteristics without any understanding of where those characteristics came from and don't have any concept of the redemptive qualities that these characters have (well maybe not Kim if I read the Wikipedia entry on her character correctly). That's certainly evident in the transition of the Kath character from the Australian series, who is described as, "a strong, successful mother who embodies the stereotypical housewife/mother personality. At times Kath is naive, and gullible to her daughter's antics, but is usually determined and strong in handling difficult situations." The character has none of those qualities in the American show.
Earlier this year I described Do Not Disturb by saying that it "doesn't suck as badly as I thought it would." Kath & Kim "doesn't suck as badly as I thought it would" either. It literally sucks worse than I thought it would. There were at least a few redeeming features to Do Not Disturb if only for a couple of the character who went slightly beyond the stereotype and because there were situations in the one episode I saw were sort of funny, even with the oppressive laugh-track that the network inserted. Not only am I unable to find anything really redeeming in the main characters, but I didn't find anything really funny in the situations that the characters were involved in. I don't even think a laugh track would work for this show.
Under normal circumstances I would say that I couldn't understand how this show managed to get as far as actually showing up on a TV network. Someone should have caught just how bad this show was during the pilot process and either revamped the show, or not picked up the pilot. But of course under the supervision of Ben Silverman, NBC decided that the pilot process was outmoded and too expensive, so the network decided to go with a system where only scripts were submitted. This is the first example of this new system in action, since Knight Rider had a backdoor pilot in the form of a TV movie. If Kath & Kim is an example of the fruits of Silverman's new regime the stockholders of NBC-Universal are going to yearn for the happier times of Kevin Reilly's tenure as head of NBC Entertainment. Reilly's shows may not have drawn any better ratings but even the worst was measurably better in quality than Kath & Kim.