Lost in Translation


The Australian ABC TV show Kath and Kim was an Australian Cultural phenomenon. One of Australia’s most successful comedy shows. It was filmed as a single camera, a fly on the wall style show following the lives of a mother and daughter in suburban Melbourne. The show dealing with middle aged relationships, children, friendships and the day to day interactions of typical Australian people.

It’s not quite a sitcom and not quite a mocumentary, though its use of voice overs, real locations, attention to detail and deadpan humour make it a classic Australian comedy that audiences, not only here in Australia yet around the world fell in love with.

So in 2008, the Aussie series was transformed and renamed into an all American series, with the original creators, Jane Turner and Gina Riley respectively who both played original Kath and Kim serving as producers. The show was thought to be a hit in the United States.

However this was not the case. The show was destroyed by critics and eventually cancelled after one season. Though why did this remake not work?

The show was just going off the success of other U.S remakes of TV shows such as The Office from UK and Ugly Betty from Colombia. These remakes used the same format as their counterparts, just with Americanised backgrounds and culture.

What didn’t translate with American Kath and Kim?

It was basically the whole concept of the show. Kath and Kim doesn’t have significant plotlines or drama, it relies on its character developments, Its Australian slang and hidden idioms used in dialogue.

Phrases like

“Give it a bone”
“I’ve got a feeling in my waters”

and “Clutching at spanners”

Many of these phrases are understood by Australian viewers, and add to the shows character.

What sets Kath and Kim apart is it emphasises the difference in American and Australian cultures even though the use of many elements such as celebrity gossip and shopping centres, commercial products and brand are quite culturally American.

Much like other iconic Australian productions such as the films ‘The Castle’ and ‘Muriel’s wedding’, it is the Australian cultural elements that make it work so well. This is what Kath & Kim also holds. It represents the Australian lifestyle in a parody style that it is extremely difficult for people of other cultures to understand. The Cultural elements of Kath and Kim cannot be succumbed by cultural homogenisation.

Cultural Homogenisation being the aspect of culture being globalised and less diversified so that it fits across many countries.

So in hindsight, it is extremely difficult to capture and translate a narrative that has such cultural roots to another country and remove its elements to satisfy a new audience. Sometimes its best to leave these shows to their authenticity.


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