I was pretty excited when I realised we were talking about t.v this week, in particular comedies. However, it seems as though every funny show I watch on t.v is an export from the United States. Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory of course are two of the best that come to mind first. The brilliant wit and irony within the programs has won them many Golden Globe and AFI Awards as well as numerous other awards. While these two shows and others alike are received well on the international market including within Australia, when the roles are reversed and we export comedies to the U.S, our comedy doesn’t seem to translate all that well.
A prime example of this is the reproduction of Kath and Kim for the U.S audience. In 2007, the situation comedy series was Australia’s highest rating series of the year. However, when the rights for the format where bought by Reveille Productions (now Shine America), the same company that bought The Office, it was described in the U.S and in Australia as “the worst remake ever.” So why did it fail so much in both America and Australia when shows like The Office and reality t.v shows flourish across borders?
Simple. The irony of the original was lost. “The gap between how a character imagines him/herself to be and how they appear to the audience.” (Turnbull 2013) Both Kath and Kim in the Australian version deliberately make themselves look unattractive, dressing in tight revealing clothes with their stomach for all to see, while believing they are super hot. But in the American version with Molly Shannon and Selma Blair playing the role of Kath and Kim respectively, clearly do not achieve this irony that made the original such a hit. In fact, when you look at the American characters, both are actually rather good looking. The remake had completely lost all elements of irony, therefore losing the comedic side of the series. And without this comedy, it is just a bunch of ladies making “feewwwlllllssssss” of themselves.
Comedy can be risky to transport, but there are many examples of when the risk has paid off and hit shows have been created. Others fail because they don’t capture the essence of what made the original funny and popular.
Sue Turnbull sums it up perfectly: “The 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. Even more significant may be the choices that are made about casting and the character of the ensuing embodied performances.”