There seems to be an ongoing trend for T.V companies from one country, taking the idea of a successful comedy series from another, and appropriating it to create their own version for their audience, in the hope that it will create the same success. The U.S version of The Office is a successful example of this, creating 9 seasons and winning several awards (Wikipedia, 2014). However, appropriating from one culture is not as easy as that. In regards to the Australian made TV hit, Kath and Kim, we saw a dreadful failure when the US attempted to appropriate and recreate their own version for the American audience. In fact, only 17 episodes were aired after 22 were planned. So, where did they go wrong?
“The successful translation of a comedy depends not only on the translation of the cultural context from one locale to another but also on the kinds of production deals which are made and the expectations about audiences which are then inferred.” (Turnbull 2008 p.115)
In unpacking this quote, it becomes evident that the what individuals find ‘funny’ is highly influenced by their culture. For example, in Australia, Kath and Kim reflects our cultural notion of ‘the bogan,’ whereas America doesn’t understand this concept. Furthermore, the producer of the U.S Kath and Kim, producer Michelle Nader had decided to tone down the show and make it more grounded in emotion (Daily Telegraph, 2008). For example the title of the first episode was “Love” in comparison to Australia’s first episode called “Sex” (Turnbull, 2008). However, San Francisco Chronicle TV writer Tim Goodman, a major critic of the U.S Kath and Kim, suggested that perhaps Nader didn’t understand Australia’s take on Kath and Kim or didn’t think it would work for American television (Daily Telegraph, 2008). Either way, Goldman argues “One of the great things about the original Kath & Kim, a mother-daughter comedy about cluelessness, tackiness, blind hope and failed expectations, is that it found humor in all of its well-drawn characters and situations. In the American version, there’s no humor at all.” (Daily Telegraph, 2008)
Contributing to this, Turnbull (2008) further suggests that successful translation depends on the casting of characters and how these characters perform. The image of US characters, Kath and Kim, played by Selma Blair and Molly Shannon, were a lot more high end in comparison to Australia’s Kath and Kim. The missing ‘bogan’ element within these characters, combined with a hilarious accent, fails to magnify a sense of stupidity that audiences laugh at, and therefore, the comedy element is barely there at all, particularly when viewed by Australian audiences.
Thus, something has been ‘lost in translation.’ Turnbull, (2008) suggests that the role and place of irony is what’s been lost, in particular, “the gap between how a character imagines him/herself to be and how they appear to the audience.” For example, when Gina Riley plays her character of Australian Kim, she is successful at complementing Kim as foolish and self-deluded, whereas Selma Blair’s U.S Kim is young and even attractive and doesn’t possess the same amount of ridiculousness as Riley’s Kim (Turnbull, 2008). So in conclusion, it’s clear that a variety of factors contribute to the success or failure of the translation of comedy between cultures, as different audiences expect different things.
Inla, P 2008, ‘US Critic pans American Kath and Kim as ‘dreadful’’, The Daily Telegraph, viewed 21 September 2014, <http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/entertainment/us-critic-pans-american-kath-kim-as-dreadful/story-e6frexlr-1111117694643?nk=231a311736b08f6667acfbdfbdfd3a27>
Turnbull, S 2008, ‘Television Comedy in Translation,’ Metro Magazine, no. 159, pp. 110-115
Wikipedia, 2014, The Office (U.S TV series), Wikipedia, viewed 21 September 2014, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Office_(U.S._TV_series)>