Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Few Thoughts After Watching Ab Fab...

Recently I worked my way through the relatively new 2 Entertain/BBC DVD set of Absolutely Fabulous (BBC 1992, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2011, 2012), a set, by the way, which claims to be absolutely complete but is not. It is missing the 1994 Comic Relief Pet Shop Boys, Jennifer Saunders, and Joanna Lumley Absolutely Fabulous song sketch, the 2005 Comic Relief sketch, the appearance of Eddy and Pats on the US sitcom Roseanne, and now, thanks to the recent reappearance of Ab Fab on the Beeb, the two holiday specials and Sport Relief sketch from 2011 and 2012 and the upcoming Olympics special set to be transmitted in July.

For my money Ab Fab, as it is often called by its fans, is (or should be) in that heavenly pantheon of great almost transcendental sitcoms along with Fawlty Towers, The Good Life, Butterflies, Are You Being Served, and the first series of Worst Week of My Life. Ab Fab starred Jennifer Saunders (Edwina "Edina" Eddy" Monsoon) of French and Saunders fame, Joanna Lumley (Patsy Stone), Julia Sawlaha (Saffron "Saffy" Monsoon, daughter of Edina), Jane Horrocks (Bubble, Edina's employee at her PR firm), and June Whitfield (Edina's mum). Saunders, like John Cleese and Connie Booth in Fawlty Towers, did double duty writing every one of the 36 episodes of Ab Fab (the number of episodes at the time of writing; three more are expected during 2011) just as Cleese and Booth co-wrote every one of the twelve episodes of Fawlty Towers.

During its run Ab Fab became an international phenomenon particularly among women and gays (some one once commented that Eddy and Pats looked, dressed, and acted a bit like drag queens on steroids). A French version of the show, Absolument fabuleux, appeared in film form in 2001. There were a couple of attempts, both failures, to do an American version of the show the first by Roseanne Barr a fan of the show, the second as recent as 2008 which starred Kathryn Hain and Kristen Johnson (of 3rd Rock from the Sun fame). While Barr was not able to get her version of Ab Fab on American television she did manage to bring Eddy and Pats to American TV shores. Edina and Patsy show up on Roseanne (ABC, 1988-1997) during the final season of that show, the infamous Roseanne becomes wealthy after winning the lottery season, in the episode Satan, Dear in 1996. The Pet Shop Boys, appropriately enough, along with Saunders and Lumley did a sketch pop video for Comic Relief called "Absolutely Fabulous" (1994). And while the song with its clips and dialogue from Ab Fab was certainly meant to be comic and parodic it was also an homage to this wonderful show.

There is so much one can talk about when reflecting on Ab Fab: the quality and intelligence of its scripts, its humour, both cerebral and physical, its parody and satire of upper class and upper middle class women obsessed with staying young through cosmetic surgery and botox, its portrayal of Eddy and Pats as anti-maternal sex, drugs, and rock and rollers who have never grown out of adolescence, its creation of a world in which its parents, well Eddy and Pats anyway, are adolescents and its teenage children, Saffy, adults, its surrealism, and its impact on television in its wake. Ab Fab, to choose just one example, influenced Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004). Sarah Jessica Parker was said to have studied Ab Fab in preparation for her role in Sex and the City. But, and this is an important but, there is an important difference between Ab Fab and SatC that should not be forgotten. While SatC was earnest in its revelries in fashion and celebrity culture Ab Fab parodied the world of fashion and celebrity and often savagely satirised it. That said it must be remembered that in Ab Fab Saunders gets to eat her cake and have it to for while Saunders satirises the world of fashion and celebrity Edina and Saunders herself, listen to her commentaries on the box set, and Patsy also revel in the designer clothes they wear.

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