Kath & Kim: Series One Review

When Kath & Kim, currently Australia’s favourite sitcom, reached BBC2 in the UK and therefore got its first stab at attracting a mainstream audience in this country (having previously screened on LivingTV), it was greeted by a veritable fanfare in the press. What was interesting about the various snippets of hype was the fact that the numerous reference points - The Office, Absolutely Fabulous - were invariably British. Yet whilst we may wish to label the series as another “import” sitcom alongside the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm or Arrested Development, it would appear that such comparisons were quite fitting. Most notably Kath & Kim’s first series runs to only eight episodes as opposed to the US standard of twenty-plus, and then there’s the fact that rather than the great teams of gag writers who contribute to America efforts, here we get just Gina Riley and Jane Turner as co-creators, co-writers and lead actors.

The differences aren’t merely down to the logistics of the piece, however, and Kath & Kim also shares the unassuming nature of most British sitcoms. Indeed, it often seems a world away from the brasher, more energetic likes of Everyone Loves Raymond, Scrubs or Will & Grace; the setting is low key and the situations likewise. Essentially we get a mock reality TV (Aussie “fly on the wall” doc Sylvania Waters being the key source of parody) glimpse at mother and daughter pair Kath (Turner) and Kim (Riley). Kath has recently met butcher Kel (Glenn Robbins) whilst Kim is currently estranged from husband Brett (Peter Rowsthorn) and back living with her mother. The trajectory of the series comes from Kel proposing to Kath with each episode moving towards the wedding.

Yet as with most sitcoms this central narrative arc is largely peripheral to the comedy and as such each episode focuses on a genre staple – we have titles by the names of ‘Gay’, ‘Sport’, ‘Party’, etc. Moreover, the gags themselves stay firmly within the usual parameters and thus Kath & Kim is primarily so enjoyable courtesy of the wit of the dialogue, the strength of the characters, and the class based satire. Indeed, anyone expecting a specifically Australian comedy (in manner of, say, Rob Sitch’s features or Paul Hogan’s various personas) may be surprised as to how familiar this all is; only the broad, enunciated accents belie its country of origin.

As to the comedy itself, Kath & Kim proves itself to be continually amusing if rarely riotously so. Riley and Turner clearly have an ear for dialogue and get plenty of mileage out of their characters’ inherent trashiness (“piss elegant” being a defining characteristic) and provide the series with an abundance of eminently quotable catchphrases – the majority of which emblazon the packaging. Moreover, the slower pace in comparison to the US model also allows for a greater sense of place – which once again enhances the essential tackiness of these people – as well as character. Indeed, with regards to the latter, the creation of Kel is a particular delight, especially during episode two in which he divulges his past in the navy, fondness for Barbra Streisand and penchant for “man bags”.

If there is a weakness, however, then it results from Turner and Riley clearly struggling with the set piece. Though clearly gifted verbally, they fail to demonstrate a similar talent for physical humour. Certainly, the amount of screen time dedicated to such scenes is comparatively minimal, but they do fall flat nonetheless. That said, it is worth noting that this is a first series and as such we perhaps shouldn’t expect all of the creases to be ironed out just yet. Indeed, these eight episodes still provide enough entertainment and endearing enough characters (the satire, of course, isn’t that harsh) to ensure, at the very least, high expectations from series two.

The Disc

Kath & Kim’s first series comes to UK DVD in identical form to that of the Australian release. The picture is transferred anamorphically at a ratio of 1.78:1 and the sound is that of the original stereo. In both cases, the presentation is absolutely fine – the image is consistently clean and sharp, the dialogue can be heard throughout – and the episodes are easily the equal if not an improvement on their original television showings.

As for the extras, we find various outtakes and deleted/extended/alternative scenes spread over the two discs. There’s no particular pattern to how they’ve been collated (each comes under a catchphrase from the series: “Look at me”, “Wine time”, “Team with a theme”), but then this only encourages the viewer to have a proper root around. Highlights include Kim and Brett’s complete wedding video (only ever glimpsed on TV screens during the series) and seeming inability to make lesbian innuendo jokes without corpsing. Unfortunately these extras come without English subtitles, unlike the series proper.

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