That’s what the American version of Kath & Kim should have been called, unfortunately.
The original iconic Australian TV series Kath & Kim first aired on our screens in 2002 with our first look at this suburbia bogan-esque characters that were not grounded in reality and their antics surrounding it. This proved comedic for many Australians, and the show had a very successful run that ended in 2007 and even had a theatrical movie produced. Kath and Kim today are still known by the majority of Australians as a part of Australian culture. So how did the US get the adaptation so bizarrely wrong to Australians?
Here’s what happened.
Firstly, in the US, cultural expectations and humour are very different to what it appears in Australia, so they tried to conform it to US tastes. The problem was that the idea flew completely over their heads. In the starring roles, they casted two beautiful ladies in the role, which is the antithesis of the Australian version. In both versions, Kim brags about how she is a “Horn-bag” (slang for being very attractive). In the Australian version of the show, we can laugh at their ignorance and how they are not conventionally pretty and dense enough to believe it. In the American version, they are pretty, so there is no dissonance to be seen, and therefore there is no humour in it. In the article, Karen Brooks states that ‘The American Kath Day and her daughter Kim are not monstrous enough to be clichés, stereotypes, parodies or even brave enough to be abhorrent or funny.’ This insinuates that some part of Kath and Kim’s comedy derives from stereotypes of a culture or location, and the stereotyping has to be translated accurately for different cultural audiences. In the case of the US version, it didn’t represent cultural values or stereotypes well enough for the American consumer to laugh at it.
It is a very tricky goal to adapt a current show for a different audience, as you have to change the cultural context of all of it, and in every show the culture is pretty ‘baked in place’ so screenwriters and actors have a huge challenge of trying to insert their own instead, and in the right places, so that it functions smoothly like it is an original and not an obvious shoddy adaptation.
‘The American Kath Day and her daughter Kim are not monstrous enough to be clichés, stereotypes, parodies or even brave enough to be abhorrent or funny.’
This is especially true for British and Australian TV being adapted into the American Sphere, with shows like the Office being adapted from UK to US.
There are already several comparison videos on YouTube that examine the cultural differences between the versions and are worth a watch, such as WatchMojo’s video comparing the two Office shows.
Regardless, whichever version tickles your fancy is entirely up to personal preference, and a UK citizen might prefer the US version of the office, or some Australian (however unlikely) might fall over into gut-busting laughter at the US version of Kath & Kim.
We all have different sensibilities when it comes to humour, and sometimes it might be completely different from what the culture expects from us. Either way, no adaptation can be ‘perfect’ as everyone has a different sense of humour, even if they share the same cultural reference point.
- Journal Article Reference 1
- Sense of Humor across Cultures: A Comparison of British, Australian and American Respondents. (2019). North American Journal of Psychology, [online] 12(2), p.1. Available at: https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-331348552/sense-of-humor-across-cultures-a-comparison-of-british [Accessed 11 Aug. 2019].
-Journal Article Reference 2
Turnbull, Sue. ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation [online]. Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, No. 159, 2008: 110-115.