BBC sitcom with a large and growing cult following, Absolutely
Fabulous, debuted in 1992 with six episodes. Six additional
episodes appeared in 1994, and a final six in 1995. The American
cable channel Comedy Central began running the series in 1994.
as fans call it, is about idle-rich Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders),
a 40-year-old spoiled brat who owns her own PR business but works
at it only rarely (and incompetently). Stuck in the self-indulgences
of the 1960s, but showing no sign of that decade's political awareness,
Edina refuses to grow up. Her principal talent is making a spectacle
of herself. This she achieves by dressing gaudily, speaking loudly
and rudely, and lurching frantically from one exaggerated crisis
to the next. All the while, she overindulges--in smoking, drinking,
drugs, shopping, and fads (Buddhism, colonic irrigation, various
unsuccessful attempts at slimming down). She lives extravagantly
off the alimony provided by two ex-husbands.
friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) is equally a caricature. Employed
as Fashion Director of a trendy magazine, she almost never works
(she has the job because she slept with the publisher). She is even
more of a substance abuser than Edina, and trashier in appearance
with an absurdly tall, blond hairdo and far too much lipstick. Most
disturbingly, Patsy is overly dependent upon Edina for money, transportation,
and especially companionship.
behaves like an unruly daughter, thereby displacing Edina's real
daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha), of whom Patsy is extremely jealous.
Edina humors Patsy's excesses and seems parental only by virtue
of her money and domineering personality. The real "mother" of the
house is Saffron, a young adult who in being almost irritatingly
virtuous is both a moral counterweight to the evil Patsy and a comic
foil for the two childlike adults.
represents conscience and serves a function similar to that of Meathead
in All in the Family, except that in Ab Fab the generational
conflict is not one of conservative vs. liberal so much as bad vs.
good liberalism. Neither Saffron nor Edina is conservative. Although
Saffron is somewhat nerdy in the manner of Alex Keaton in Family
Ties, she lacks his predatory materialism and serves as a reassuring
model of youth. While Patsy and Edina illustrate a pathological
mutation of 1960s youth culture, Saffron provides hope that liberalism
(or at least youth) is redeemable.
focus on generational issues also plays out in Edina's disrespect
for her mother (June Whitfield). The relationship between the four
main characters, all women, is all the more interesting because
of the absence of men. Edina's father puts in only one appearance
in the series--as a corpse, and only Saffron cares that he has died.
Similarly, Edina's son is never seen in the first twelve episodes
and is only mentioned a few times. It is not that men are bad--rather,
they are irrelevant.
Ab Fab to have a feminist flavor even as it portrays women
in mostly unflattering terms. Edina and Patsy are certainly not
intended as role models, and in presenting them as buffoonish and
often despicable, series creator-writer Saunders ridicules not only
bourgeois notions of motherhood and family life, but also media
images of women's liberation. For example, Edina and Patsy, although
"working women," actually depend upon the largesse of men to maintain
their station in life. Edina's business and Patsy's job are a joke.
This cynical vision of professionalism may seem regressive, but
at the same time it is a refreshing critique of advertising and
fashion, two industries invariably depicted by TV as--absolutely
Photo courtesy of BBC
developed from a sketch on the French and Saunders show and is a
fine example of the flowering of Alternative Comedy, the post-Monty
Python movement that also produced The Young Ones. Rejecting
what has been referred to as the "erudite middle-class approach"
of the Python generation, the new British comics of the 1980s
approached their material with a rude, working-class, rock-and-roll
sensibility. Ab Fab, while focusing on the concerns of middle
age, nonetheless has a youthful energy and eschews sentimentality.
Flashbacks and dream sequences contribute to this energy and give
the show a mildly anarchic structure. A smash hit in Britain, Ab
Fab has won two International Emmy awards and has given the
somewhat obscure Comedy Central cable channel a significant publicity
Monsoon.........................Jennifer Saunders Patsy Stone....................................Joanna
Lumley Saffron Monsoon.............................Julia
Sawalha June Monsoon (Mother)..................June Whitfield
Bubble........................................... Jane Horrocks
1992-December 1992......Six Episodes January 1994-March 1994................
March 1995-May 1995.................... Six Episodes
Absolutely Fabulous Finale." The New Yorker, 20 March 1995.
Gerry. "The Women." The Advocate (San Mateo, California),
16 April 1996.
Sarah. "Absolutely Catching, Bad Habits and All." The New York
Times, 13 July 1995.
John. "Absolutely Fabulous." The New York Times, 12 June
Jennifer. Absolutely Fabulous. London: BBC Books, 1993. _______________.
Absolutely Fabulous 2. London: BBC Books, 1994.