As Yakov Smirnoff taught us long ago, Russia is a deeply disturbing universe where all of the things Americans take for granted are reversed, grotesquely and ironically, to the point where all you can do is declare your gratitude for and amazement over what a country we happen to live in. And once more one of our most American exports has passed through the still-lingering shadow of the Iron Curtain only to arrive grotesquely transformed—in this case the incredibly long-running Kevin James sitcom The King Of Queens, which has been adapted for Russian audiences as The Newlyweds, and is somehow no longer about a fat guy. “They do have fat guys [in Russia],” Sony exec Jeff Lerner explains to the New York Post. “And they do have funny guys. But we didn’t find the perfect intersection of those two things.” Apparently the pairing of friskiness and obesity that Kevin James brings to his roles is a uniquely American combination, and also Boris Yeltsin is dead.
Of course, this is just one of the many translations being made for the sake of Russian audiences: Lerner says that the biggest obstacle was figuring out what to do with Nicole Sullivan’s character, the dog walker—an occupation that doesn’t exist in Russia, which eats its dogs—and also the Russian version of Jerry Stiller, who now frequently expresses nostalgia for “the Soviet times,” when a man could count on ruthless oppression. But the casting of the “fit-looking 37-year-old actor named Oskar Kuchera” to play the lead is obviously the biggest perversion, although Lerner insists, “He is still a guy who loves to eat and he won’t hold back. He is just not fat.” And thus Russia, like they did with other exports such as rock ’n’ roll, ruins the American institution that is the fat guy/hot wife paradigm. Why didn’t we ever declare war on them again?