- Buy the DVD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
ith “Sex and the City” being all the rage at the moment, you’re no doubt tired of your wife or girlfriend talking about it, annoyed at having been dragged to the movie, and perhaps sick to death of handing over the remote control so she can repeatedly view the episodes on DVD. If you understand what Manolo Blahniks and Cosmopolitans are, but cannot grasp why anyone should care, then “Absolutely Fabulous” is the cure you can share with your significant other. “AbFab,” as the seasoned vets call it, was perhaps even part of the inspiration for “Sex and the City,” but the difference is that all the little trinkets and icons are mocked rather than hailed, and the main characters, Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), don’t realize they’re part of the joke.
Edina is a clueless PR woman with a seemingly bottomless bank account that allows her to indulge in as much shopping, boozing and drugging as her id demands. Patsy, her codependent best friend and partner in crime, is a fashion editor who appears to have little career ambition and spends her days drinking “champers” (champagne), and her nights in the bed of one nameless man after another. Part of the joke is that neither woman’s career seems to require any amount of talent or attention to detail, and yet they never lose their jobs. The third major character is Edina’s uptight daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha), whose life seems to mostly consist of enduring Edina and Patsy’s continued nonsensical behavior, of which she strongly disapproves. Also on hand are Edina’s dippy mother (June Whitfield), who is occasionally Saffy’s ally but usually seems to be a bizarre island of her own. Gran, however, has got nothing on the weirdness of Edina’s assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), who steals every single scene she appears in.
“AbFab” used to seem like a very witty, bawdy comedy, but watching it this time around I was struck by the notion that time has turned it into a satire. When the show started on the BBC back in 1992, stuff like fashion, style and PR weren’t anywhere near as prevalent as they are today; or perhaps, having been in my early 20s back then, I just tuned it all out. In any case, the series was the biggest thing to make its way across the Atlantic in the early ‘90s, besides “Mr. Bean.” It wasn’t like anything on American TV. It didn’t conform to our ideas of what British comedy was supposed to be. It was smart and true to its characters. It was politically incorrect at a time when everyone was worried about being just that.
The list could go on, but something that really made it stand out at the time was that, once in a while, it got serious. But when it did, it never felt out of place. Were these women human beings after all? The show occasionally tempted us to believe for a few moments that they were, but such moments were deftly and quickly steamrolled by the show spinning itself back around into the characters’ crass selfishness. Edina and Patsy maybe were human, and maybe it was important that for brief moments they not be seen as caricatures. But “AbFab” wasn’t about that and it knew it. It was their lack of humanity that kept the train on the track, and those brief human touches ultimately made them all the more interesting.
Saunders, who starred in the show and also wrote every single installment, unleashed three six-episode seasons of “AbFab” before wrapping it up in ’95 with an episode titled “The End.” But then in ’96 it returned with two specials that equated to a feature length effort titled “The Last Shout.” Surely, this was the end? Not so. Not even close. Saunders got everyone back together five years later, and between ‘01 and ’04 unleashed two more seasons and three more specials. It’s fascinating to watch the show change with the times while still staying true to its core mission.
Even though the name of this set is “Absolutely Everything,” I wouldn’t put it past Jennifer Saunders to revisit Edina Monsoon at some point in the future. She’s seemingly ended “Absolutely Fabulous” so many times and then come back to it that it’s hard to believe that it’ll ever truly be over. But for the time being, this set contains almost everything. Purists will complain that it’s missing a brief Comic Relief sketch and a few bits have been trimmed for music clearance reasons, but these are very minor omissions. If you’ve never gotten around to picking up the series on DVD, there’s certainly no easier way to do it than with this box.
Special Features: Each season on the set has a separate 15-minute selection of “Rare Outtakes” as well as photo galleries. Season Four also features commentaries on each episode from Saunders and producer Jon Plowman; two early “French & Saunders” sketches; the pilot episode of “Mirrorball” (an effort from Saunders and the rest of the cast that never got past the one episode: and finally a featurette called “Joanna Lumley on Modeling.” The last disc, which is devoted to the last special, “White Box,” features “How to Be Absolutely Fabulous” which is a behind-the-scenes piece; “AbFab – A Life,” in which Edina looks back on her life; and “Modern Mother & Daughter,” the original French & Saunders sketch that inspired the series. The packaging is a real treat to look at, too, as the discs are encased in a book-like box covered in silver fabric. Each disc, however, rests in a separate cardboard sleeve, which could lead to some serious scratching if you’re not careful, or if you intend to get a lot of use out of the set, and for that, the set gets docked half a point. Sorry, darlings.