ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS

British Situation Comedy

The half-hour 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.

Ab Fab, 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.

Edina's best 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.

Patsy often 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.

Thus Saffron 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.

Ab Fab's 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.

This allows 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 fabulous.

 

 


Absolutely Fabulous

Photo courtesy of BBC

Ab Fab 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 boost.

-Gary Burns

CAST

Edina Monsoon.........................Jennifer Saunders Patsy Stone....................................Joanna Lumley Saffron Monsoon.............................Julia Sawalha June Monsoon (Mother)..................June Whitfield Bubble........................................... Jane Horrocks

PRODUCER
Jon Plowman

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

BBC

November 1992-December 1992......Six Episodes January 1994-March 1994................ Six Episodes
March 1995-May 1995.................... Six Episodes

FURTHER READING

"An Absolutely Fabulous Finale." The New Yorker, 20 March 1995.

Kroll, Gerry. "The Women." The Advocate (San Mateo, California), 16 April 1996.

Lyall, Sarah. "Absolutely Catching, Bad Habits and All." The New York Times, 13 July 1995.

O'Connor, John. "Absolutely Fabulous." The New York Times, 12 June 1995.

Saunders, Jennifer. Absolutely Fabulous. London: BBC Books, 1993. _______________. Absolutely Fabulous 2. London: BBC Books, 1994.

See also Lumley, Joanna; Saunders, Jennifer