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Gifts From Abroad

On the heels of Ali G and Ricky Gervais, two Commonwealth comedies try importing funny.

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Little Britain USA (left and middle); Kath & Kim (right)  

Likelihood of American Success  

Little Britain USA
What it was: In just three seasons, Matt Lucas and David Walliams’s BBC sketch-comedy series Little Britain has grown into one of the most successful British comedies of all time. Resolutely bawdy, Little Britain relies on a cast of transgressive recurring characters, like the chubby white-girl gangster Vicky Pollard and the “paraplegic” trickster Andy, who pretends to be wheelchair-bound so his friend Lou will wait on him hand and foot.

What it will be: On the prodding of rainmaker Simon Fuller—who imported the Spice Girls and American Idol—Lucas and Walliams have brought their most popular characters to HBO. One named Sebastian was an aide besotted with the prime minister. “David had the bold idea of taking Sebastian and making him the British P.M.—who develops a crush on the American president,” explains Lucas. They’ve gambled on an Obama administration.

Translation requirements: Tweaking diction, and at least one joke. “One thing that I did find out is that ‘rent boy’ is not a familiar phrase in America,” says Walliams. “It’s a handy piece of advice for Brits traveling in America. Don’t go around asking for rent boys, because you might not get what you asked for.”

Will it play Stateside? Walliams and Lucas have the genial onscreen rapport of a British Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, and their foulmouthed Vicky Pollard could be the funniest British “woman” since Monty Python’s Pepperpots. –Katie Charles



Likelihood of American Success  

Kath & Kim
What it was: Kath and Kim Day, a mother-daughter duo of nightmarish proportions, were created and played originally by Aussie comics Jane Turner and Gina Riley. Lycra-loving Kath and chubby Kim live in the comfortably numb suburbs of Melbourne. They lampoon a rising middle class (“It’s Cardonnay—the h is silent”) and have invented a ridiculous, infectious vocabulary (“big hunk o’ spunk” is now a staple of Australian vernacular).

What it will be: On NBC this fall, Molly Shannon stars as Kath and Selma Blair as Kim. “I’m a beast,” says Blair of her character. Now the Days live in a cookie-cutter development somewhere in Florida. Kath is planning her wedding to Phil Knight (John Michael Higgins), a metrosexual who owns a sandwich shop in the mall; Kim is moving home in the midst of an ineffective breakup. Their guys are not losers so much as “not really important fellas,” Blair says.

Translation requirements: Coining new language. Kath & Kim’s American producers have altered some turns of phrases (“afternoon delight” is now “kathdernoon delight”; “big hunks o’ spunk” are now “naughty Neds”). Also, while the original Kim sported a healthy muffin-top, Blair has something more like “a cupcake top”—a smaller layer around her middle that nonetheless becomes very visible under her tight T-shirts. “I’m kind of lampooning myself when I was younger,” Blair explains. “Sadly.”

Will it play Stateside? Blair and Shannon are both nuanced, practiced actors, but how to adapt a show that is so driven by Australian stereotypes? –Emma Pearse

Little Britain USA
HBO; premieres September 28, 10:30 p.m.

Kath & Kim
NBC’ premieres October 9, 8:30 p.m.


Related:

Fall Preview 2008

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