Australia’s top-rated comedy — about a flamboyantly suburban, absolutely desperate-to-be-fabulous mother and daughter — is by no means subtle. On Kath & Kim, mom Kath (co-creator Jane Turner) has zealously permed Mrs. Roper hair and a compulsion for discussing her randy sex life with second husband Kel (Glenn Robbins). Twentysomething Kim (co-creator Gina Riley) is a bratty new mother who jams her round body into Spice Girl skirts and whines when her husband presents her with flowers for her birthday: ”Flowers are not a present, Brett, they’re a garnish!”
The Sundance Channel is now airing season 3 of K&K, but viewers needn’t have seen the first two to follow this screwbally, dysfunctional family sitcom. In every episode, Kath and Kim will undoubtedly land themselves in some Laverne and Shirley-style silliness, deploying really sharp dialogue in the process. The Aussie accents are deliberately overstretched (why use one syllable when you can use three?), and the jokes can be equally broad, on a farts-are-funny level. The gags are aimed at middle-class pretension — which could be mean-spirited, but the series rarely is, precisely because it’s the pretensions K&K sneers at, not the class itself. The show is also fond of taking a joke way round the bend. When Kath and Kim get tarted up like flamingos to go to the posh races, you know they’re going to make fools of themselves. But who’d have guessed Kath would swan over to guest star Rachel Griffiths (as a humorless version of herself), suffer a decidedly bourgeois coughing fit, and then drunkenly compliment Griffiths on her brooch…which turns out to be a curlicue of meat Kath has just fur-balled onto the actress.
That’s the fun of Kath & Kim — like its characters, it looks quite middlebrow, but unlike its characters, it’s actually much brighter. Kath landing the role of Virginia Woolf in her community theater’s production of The Hours: The Musical is worth a smile and not much more (Waiting for Guffman mined this territory already). But when Kath is told to explore her character through improvisation, and can only come up with Woolf’s to-do list — ”I’ve rolled a cigarette, written Mrs. Dalloway…” — the scene becomes way more clever than a bunch of dancing noses would suggest.
Turner and Riley, well-known sketch comedians in Australia, know just how far to take their outsize characters, keeping them cartoonish enough so they’re not pitiable, yet just believable enough to be worthy of our investment. (That they play mum and daughter despite being the same age gives you an idea of K&K‘s looseness.) Their brassy exchanges are wonderful, as when Kath admonishes Kim to lose weight: ”Look, you’re mushrooming out all sides,” she says, pointing at her daughter’s waist roll. ”It’s positively nuclear!” Costar Magda Szubanski (best known in the U.S. as the farmwife in Babe) plays Kim’s homely second-best friend, a permanent tagalong — she’s the perfect kappa dog to Kim’s delta dog. Add guest stars like Griffiths and Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush as a power-walking neighbor, and this is one well-staffed suburban sitcom — and a funnier one than we usually see Stateside.