Kath and Kim are iconically Australian. Kim, the bogan who thinks she’s full of sass, Kath, the daggy mother who thinks she’s sex on legs, and Sharon, the obviously overweight best friend who is convinced she’s a professional athlete. Kath and Kim ran in Australia from 2002 to 2007, and remains today just as popular and well known. It was tragic, but it was hilarious.
It was also a huge hit in the UK, the humour was easily translated and relatable to an English audience. This was due to a shared cultural DNA, popularity of Dame Edna, and an already established exposure to Australian suburbia and a laid back lifestyle. This was largely due to a previous Australian hit Neighbours, which flourished in the UK as well (Turnbull, 2014).
However, when Kath and Kim was remade into a US series, the same outcome was not achieved, being cancelled after only 17 episodes (Idato, 2014), but why? The American series largely lacked the irony such a show so desperately needs to succeed. The Australian comedy was rooted in the gap between how the characters perceived themselves, and how the audience saw them:
“While Kim imagines herself as a ‘horn-bag’ size 10, squashing her voluptuous curves into outfits frequently more suitable for a twelve year old, Sharon with her suppurating sores, debilitating complaints and monstrous belly imagines herself as an elite sportswoman, complete with a rampant sexual appetite.” (Turnbull, p. 114).
Yet this gap was not mirrored in the US version. The characters were too upper class, too glamorous, and essentially, too skinny.
Kim was no longer the size 14 squeezing into a size 10 – she was smaller than a size 10. It is hard to pull the portrayal of ironically thinking you’re a horn-bag, when you realistically are. The remake failed to “capture the slightly offbeat suburban spirit which made the original series one of the most resonant Australian comedies of all time” (Idato, 2014). The cultural references just weren’t there – the American audience failed to find the humour. Perhaps it was too Americanised for Australians, but too Australianised for Americans. Comedy is a cultural and social practice that relies on historical context to be understood, and unfortunately this was very much lacking in the US remake (Turnbull, 2014). Unlike Australia and the UK, Australia the US do not share the same cultural DNA and humour cues, thus the remake could not be a success.
Idato, M 2014, ‘Kath & Kim on Hulu in the US after remake failed’, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 September
Turnbull, S 2014, ‘Week 7 – Television in Translation: Kath and Kim’, Lecture, BCM111, University of Wollongong, viewed September 10, 2014
Turnbull, S (2008) ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught it in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation, Metro Magazine, Issue 159 Dec