When Magda Szubanski last week posted a shot of the iconic wigs of Sharon Karen Strzelecki, Kath Day-Knight and Kim Craig née Day, anticipation for Kath & Kim: Our Effluent Life hit fever pitch.
It’s difficult to recall the last time a photo of three wigs caused me to issue such shrieks of excitement – but the 20th anniversary of Gina Riley and Jane Turner’s masterpiece, one of the greatest TV comedies this country has ever produced, seemed a fitting reason to go off.
The first of a two-part celebration of the show aired on Channel 7 on Sunday evening, and as it turned out, it wasn’t the fully fledged reboot we were hoping for. Part clip show, part blooper reel, it also featured the original cast returning to Fountain Lakes for the first time in years. Well, a version of it: the Kath & Kim house, devastatingly, was demolished earlier this year, meaning the new material was filmed using green screens, giving the clips an uncanny valley quality. It was nice to see the characters sort of on site, but couldn’t they have just gone to Fountain Gate instead? I guess you really can’t go home again.
The 10 minutes or so of new material felt shopworn, with jokes about catfishing, gaslighting and Marie Kondo – although given the combined power of the wits involved, it’s not entirely impossible that these stale gags were meta commentary about K&K being always slightly out of date .
The various outtakes and rehearsal footage offered an insight into how finely tuned the apparently shambolic comedy really was, but the pace of the collage was a little too breakneck.
Occasionally, there was a chance to take a breath: a tribute to the late Shane Warne, who played Sharon’s beau Wayne the Shane Warne impersonator, was delightful, as was the extended footage of Kylie Minogue’s guest spot as Epponnee-Raelene Charlene Kathleen Darleen Craig . Prue and Trude’s appearance on The Panel begins as mildly diverting laffs between friends, before disintegrating into chaos as the bobbed shop assistants wax lyrical about the “gorgeous” men of the Liberal party. A series of clips of Peter Rowsthorn sharing his ice-cream with Cujo the Rottweiler offered further proof that he is one of the funniest people on God’s green earth.
There was no mention of the ill-fated and deathly unfunny 2008 American adaptation (this 32-second promo will suck the life force out of anyone who watches it). Whither, too, the incomprehensibly beautiful Tayce, from RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season two, doing Kath for Snatch Game, complete with “chooky neck”? Nor did the show’s funniest moment – Kath’s paranoid homosexuality-related meltdown at the shopping strip, from the first season’s second episode, “Gay” – make the highlight reel.
Instead, like so many other “legacy” properties swallowed by the great 7-shaped maw, Our Effluent Life had a cobbled-together quality, complete with recycled behind-the-scenes interviews from previous specials, and newly recorded to-camera commentary from a small handful of notables. (Are we any richer for knowing whether Julia Gillard thinks the average politician has “Kim-style traits”? Did we really need an iPhone video bit from Carson Kressley about the use of fashion on the show?)
Perhaps had Kath & Kim not made the jump from the ABC to Channel 7 in its final season, the anniversary celebrations might have been conducted with more of an eye to the show’s place in the cultural landscape of Australia and beyond. In 2020, Turner addressed criticism of the show’s handling of class, asserting that “Westies” had claimed ownership of the characters; A deeper engagement with the show’s enduring impact, for better or worse, would have been fascinating. Hopefully Monday night’s special Kath & Kim: 20 Preposterous Years –which promises “a look deep inside the nooks and unexplored crannies of the Kath & Kim universe” – will offer more insights from the creative team themselves.
The true delight of Our Effluent Life was being reminded how, beyond the confines of the show itself, Turner and Riley were responsible for some of Australian popular culture’s most deranged moments, such as Kath and Kim arriving at the 2004 AFL Grand Final in the Batmobile before performing “Lady Bump”. The characters’ legacy isn’t just funny, but deeply offbeat, and the special didn’t feel brave enough to zero in on that. In the end, Our Effluent Life was noice, but I wish it had been different.
Part two of the special, titled Kath & Kim: 20 Preposterous Years, airs at 7.30pm on Monday night, on Channel 7