- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
f there was a network series more lambasted, loathed and condemned at the start of the Fall 2008 TV Season than “Kath & Kim,” I sure as hell can’t remember what it was. It seemed like this show earned the ire of nearly every TV critic out there. Thing is, I can’t figure out exactly why it was universally despised. Was it a general dislike of Molly Shannon? Admittedly, she’s hardly a draw for me. Do critics gather together and find at least one series that they can all agree is just plain awful? Surely it wasn’t a conspiracy. Or had the majority of them actually viewed the Australian series upon which it was based? That’s the only logical answer. I have not seen the Aussie version of “Kath & Kim,” but after viewing this set, the original must be a fantastic series. This American version is not fantastic, but it dances with greatness often enough that the material upon which it’s based has to be classic. I’ve seen enough American translations of foreign TV shows (usually British) to recognize great TV when I see it, even when it’s filtered through the watered-down lens of an American network remake.
“Kath & Kim” bounced around the NBC schedule, and I’m not sure it was ever placed alongside “My Name is Earl,” but it should’ve been. The two shows have enough in common that the audience from “Earl” would’ve been a natural fit for “Kath & Kim.” It follows the exploits of mother Kath (Shannon) and daughter Kim (Selma Blair), who are standing on the edge of white trash. They live in an adequate house in Florida, and dress just acceptably enough to be able to pass themselves off as average members of society. But when they open their mouths, the problems begin. When they aren’t making an oblivious mockery of the English language, they merely exist to believe in the idea that they’re far more special than they actually are.
The series kicks off with Kim returning home to escape her marriage to Craig (Mikey Day). It seems that they wedded days ago. Kim cannot handle the notion that he wants her to do things – like cook the occasional meal in the microwave (because, as he explains, they aren’t billionaires and can’t afford to eat at Applebee’s every night). Meanwhile, Kath has finally found a man of her own, Phil (John Michael Higgins), who’s the proud owner of a sandwich shop in the mall. (By the way, Craig also works at the mall, in an electronics store, thus much of the show takes place there.) The series revolves around how these four people bang into each other’s lives, the ongoing pushes and pulls, and their continued tastes and interests in the banal. None of them are concerned with anything that really means anything, and every episode ends with a coda featuring Kath and Kim drinking on the lawn furniture discussing the latest bit of celebrity gossip; in one scenario, Pamela Anderson even shows up.
Much of “Kath & Kim” is amusing, although wading through these 17 episodes revealed a dip somewhere around the middle, where the whole thing felt like it was sagging and repetitive. (Maybe this is why audiences didn’t stick with it?) About half of the episodes are based on installments from the Aussie show; most of them are at either the start or end of the season, which are the strongest sections. Does this explain the uninspired middle? Probably. The season was, of course, designed to shoot for a probable 22 episodes, but was canceled before it could get there. In the last few entries, you get the feeling the season is headed for something inspired – something involving the marriage of Kath and Phil, but of course it never gets to deliver the goods.
It’s entirely possible I wouldn’t have given this show a second glance if not for one factor: John Michael Higgins, who’s a hilarious, underrated screen presence (you know him from all manner of fare, but most notably the Christopher Guest movies “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind” and “For Your Consideration”). Higgins makes good once again, and the amazing thing is that much of it is due to an ongoing gag that was already perfected through Tobias on “Arrested Development” – a series on which Higgins actually guest starred as attorney Wayne Jarvis. The gag is the “Is he or isn’t he gay?” thing. There’s an immense amount of comedy that’s mined from this on “Kath & Kim” and, as stated before, it looks like it’s headed for a payoff that we never get to see. I don’t think Phil is gay, as much as he is clueless about his quirky metrosexuality – but we’ll never know for sure. Regardless, there’s some really funny shit that comes of it (the bachelor party episode is priceless). While “Kath & Kim” is not a perfect sitcom, Higgins is perfect in it, and he makes the entire thing well worth checking out. In any case, this was an unfairly maligned series. Whether or not it deserved to remain on the NBC schedule I can’t say, but it should at least have been allowed to finish up its first season. Bummer.
Special Features: There’s an unusually vulgar gag reel that runs nine minutes that isn’t altogether as terrible as gag reels usually are (of course, neither will it earn a spot on the “Great Gag Reels of History” list). There are also some utterly worthless deleted scenes from five different episodes. Finally, there are a whopping ten audio commentary tracks featuring all four of the main cast members, as well as executive producer Michelle Nader and co-writers Adam Barr, Jim Dubensky and Steve Gabriel.