Saturday, October 25, 2008

Never Judge A Show by It's Pilot: Kath & Kim

We in America have invented some of the greatest things in the world like the car, the telephone and the television. It seem that many of our creations have had good runs as an American made product often people in other countries take our ideas and make them better and cheaper. Still we are very good at the creative part. The American Sitcom had a great run in the 1950s & 60s (Thanks in great part to Desi Arnaz) and then things started to get stagnant. Really, how many times can you do and episode around a bad report card or the boss coming to dinner on short notice. In the 1970s we had a sitcom renascence thanks to people like Norman Lear, adding controversial issues to his sitcom All in the Family, that was based on Johnny Speight's British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. Then Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's British sitcom Steptoe and Son, was adapted for American Television as Sanford and Son and a few years later the sexy British sitcom Man About the House (Created by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke) was adapted for American television as Three's Company. Now we have a good track record in taking a foreign product and successfully make it our own. How did we do this? We killed all the sacred cows. We talked about social issues. We laughed at our faults. We were topical. We did what the creators of the British versions of these shows did and that was to take the attitude that nothing is sacred then laugh at themselves. In other words they were successful by not playing it safe.

What happened? Somehow the sacred cows are back and they are now on steroids. Today Archie Bunker would be accused of glamorizing bigotry. The Sweathogs (Welcome Back, Kotter) would be accused of glamorizing remedial education or mocking inner city youth. M*A*S*H today would be seen a product of liberal Hollywood elitists who don’t represent the real America and hate the troops. In other words we are playing it safe. The Office and Ugly Betty (Both Reveille Productions) seem to be the exception to the rule.

Kath & Kim is American adaptation of an popular Australian television series starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair and produced by Reveille Productions in association with Universal Media Studio. I saw the pilot. Molly Shannon is Kath Day the forty-something mother and Selma Blair is Kim her self-absorbed daughter. John Michael Higgins plays Kath’s boyfriend Phil Knight a sandwich shop owner, and Mikey Day plays Kim’s newly separated husband Craig, who works at the electronics store Circuit Surplus. The actors are great and they are doing the best they can with the material they have. I really like the characters and they would be perfect if they were in an eight minute sketch on Saturday Night Live. For a situation comedy the plot and the characters are not fully developed. Sometimes I see a character on a show and say, "I know that person" here I see the character’s and say, "I know that type". All four characters see them selves as big fish but don’t see that they are in a small bowl let alone a pond. Molly Shannon and Selma Blair are great at making entrances and exits. In my opinion they are both too pretty for these parts. You also really believe that these two think that reading People magazine and watching TMZ is keeping up on current events. Kim not only sees her self as a trophy wife but also think that being a trophy wife is something to aspire to. Again, you know the type.

One of the reasons I never judge a show by it’s pilot is that often the pilot has dedicated the entire episode to setting up the premise of the series. Here Kath is in love with Phil, while Kim gets separated from her husband of six weeks. When Kim decides to move back home, it hinders Kath's new romance and mayhem ensues... No wait, mayhem does not ensue and there lies the problem. I saw the next episode. Kath wants to promote her home salon business. Phil helps her out by standing up to the mall hierarchy and getting her a booth at the mall’s prom event. Kim, while working as Kath’s hair model, gets Craig fired from his job at Circuit Surplus. They talk about pop culture not social issues. We laughed (or didn’t laugh) at the faults of people we don’t identify with. The characters show their ignorance to anything topical and sadly I think viewers can identify with that and not get the joke. We did not do what the creators of the Australian versions of the show did, and that was to take the attitude that nothing is sacred then laugh at themselves. In other words this new American version has played it safe.

To quote Kim, "Well, I didn't sign up for cooking dinner or being interested in how somebody's day was. I'm a trophy wife! Like Miliana Trump and Mrs. Larry King Live."

Stay Tuned

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