Watch What We Say
Kath & Kim
By Jason Lee
October 13, 2008

I hate them already.

This fall, BOP takes a look at every new show from the five broadcast networks. Armed with some strong coffee and our beloved TiVo, we'll slough through the entire slate of freshman dramas and comedies, weeding through the trash to find the new shows that are (surprise, surprise!) actually worth your time and energy.

This week on Watch What We Say: Two brainless women named Kath & Kim.

Watching the new NBC "comedy" called Kath & Kim raises a key question with me: "Is it possible to create a well-made show about unlikable, dimwitted characters in such a way as to elicit laughter from one's audience?"

The key here lies in two words: "well-made" and "laughter" (well, maybe that's three words, but enough nitpicking). Clearly, you can have a well-made show about an unlikable character – my previous piece on CBS's dreadful new show, The Mentalist, illustrated this point. You can also have a not-well-made show about an unlikable character that's funny every now and then – see my review of "Gary Unmarried," which borrowed filmmaking techniques from the late '80s but still made me chuckle every once in a while.

The problem here is that neither of these shows were enjoyable. I suppose that the only two shows that actually fit into the somewhat narrow category of "well-made, funny comedy about bad people" would be the early '90s classic, Married With Children, and current animated hit, Family Guy. I would really not enjoy sharing a cab with characters from either of those shows, but I laugh when watching their mean antics from afar.

Which brings me back to Kath & Kim. This new offering from NBC stars Molly Shannon and Selma Blair as the titular mother / daughter couple. The two actresses don't look anything alike, but whatever. The pilot starts with daughter Kim returning home after separating from her new husband. His major infraction? He asked her to microwave dinner every couple of days or so. "I didn't sign up for marriage to cook or listen to someone else's feelings," she drones self-indulgently to her mother, "I'm a trophy wife."

Kath Day, on the other hand, has begun a budding new relationship with sandwich maker and shopping-mall-food-court-store-owner, Phil Knight (no relationship to the founder of Nike). The return of Kim complicates her relationship as Kath is sure that, any minute now, Phil is going to propose to her.

So what did I think of the show? Interestingly enough, this is more complicated than a simple "this show stank" or "this show was awesome!" On one hand, Molly Shannon is fantastic. I never thought I'd say that anything about this show was fantastic, but Shannon is. She perfectly captures the somewhat clueless, well-meaning mother who laughs a little too hard at all of her boyfriend's dumb jokes. And you know what? She actually made me believe that Kath loved Phil – it meant something when the couple broke up and then reunited at the end of the show.

I also found the actual production of the show to be interesting. For one thing, there's no obnoxious laugh track in the background, hammering home every joke. Secondly, the show is shot in a nimble, handheld style as opposed to a standard three-camera set-up. The result is that the jokes and situational humor do not nearly feel as forced or staged as they do in other sitcoms.

So, what didn't work? First of all, I'm not sure what this show is supposed to be about. Is this supposed to be a show skewering Hollywood / LA sensibilities? There are a lot of insider jokes about celebrities but their neighborhood definitely doesn't look like any place in LA that I've seen. And is this family rich? Kim acts like an insufferable spoiled brat who was raised in an environment where she had everything, but it doesn't look like the family is well-off. Certainly, when your mother is dating a man who makes sandwiches for a living in a shopping mall food court and your daughter is married to a guy who works as a salesman in a local electronics store, you're not exactly rolling in dough.

More importantly, the character of Kim does not work. She is unlikable to the point where you wish that the show would morph into some TV version of Scream and she'd get skewered by a knife-wielding, mask-wearing killer. She cannot see beyond her own selfish needs and believe me, there are a lot of them. "Mom's going a Chinese restaurant with her boyfriend where he'll probably propose to her? Sure, I'll go along and start flirting with a guy who's clearly on a date even though I'm still married." This kind of self-centeredness isn't funny, it's torture. Torture for anyone who has to sit there and listen to her speak.

Again, this isn't a horrible show. It certainly made me laugh at a couple of points. And Molly Shannon alone almost pulls this show back into a sunnier place . . . but whenever that happens, Selma Blair comes along and destroys any hope of humor. She's not just a bull in a china shop. She's the Cloverfield monster in a china shop.

Let me put it this way: I didn't hate this show as much as The Mentalist or 90210.

Watch What We Say rating: Two TiVos

Watch What We Say: Rating System
Four TiVos: This is television content raised to the level of a transcendent art form. Not only should you TiVo this program for yourself, you should keep it on your TiVo for future generations to watch and savor.

Three TiVos: This is a very good show with a regular spot in my TiVo rotation. I watch every week and will often invite my friends over to share the enjoyable experience.

Two TiVos: I'll TiVo this show if I need something to watch while I'm folding laundry or dusting furniture.

One TiVo: I actively dislike this show and never allow it to take up space in my TiVo. Often times, I'll gripe about the show's producers, ridicule the actors and lambaste the network for keeping it on the air.

Zero TiVos: If this show is on, I unplug my TiVo for fear that the show is accidentally recorded and my entire home entertainment system gets contaminated with this malignant, diseased trash.