Absolutely Fabulous : Anti-Heroically Frenetic

a review by Green Onions

The BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous stars British comic Jennifer Saunders (of French & Saunders) as Edina, the wealthy, sometimes willful, mostly way-out, scatterbrained, trendy, fashion-conscious, and ultimately appalling London-dwelling hippy-cum-LaCroix-buying flower child-- and I do mean child-- of the sixties/nineties. (Saunders also writes AbFab, which was created in collaboration with Dawn French.)

Famine in Somalia? Time to send out her scouts for third-world cookware--after all, "they don't need it!''. Fashion show to attend? Time for a quick liposuction operation followed by a noseful of coke. Whether chanting at a Buddhist retreat, painting pictures of her vagina (while a participant in a week-long $10,000 course to get in touch with her sexuality), or arguing with her remarkably mature but sweetly serene daughter Saffy (short for `Saffron'--of course--and flawlessly played by Julia Sawalha), the character Edina is a non-stop one-woman study in the banal, the bizarre, and the preposterous.

Former 'Bond girl' Joanna Lumley joins her as the inseparable sidekick Patsy Stone(d)--though it is sometimes unclear who's on whose side and who's doing the kicking. Together, they are the comic female equivalent of what Jackie Gleason and Art Carney might have been were they rich, female, mindless, contemporary, drugged-out and freed from the tethering influence of their spouses... except that Ralph and Norton have basically noble impulses lurking behind their blustering-yet-ultimately-cowardly form of unreconstructed masculinity. Edina and Patsy are too out of it to be afraid of anything and too self-absorbed to be concerned with other people. All they really want out of life is just to make it to the next `scene'-- for which they need adequate supplies of cigarettes, champagne, vodka and whatever drugs they think are in style at the moment.

Patsy-- who counterbalances the sappy Saffy on the other end of the spectrum--serves as a handy trophy for Edina, mainly because there is no one else in the world who can tolerate either of them, but also because Patsy makes the expensively-but-appallingly-dressed and pudgy Edina feel better about herself. Edina, for her part, provides Patsy with a steady supply of booze, the use of her chauffeur-driven car, and a place to hang out when she's not out on the streets picking up working-class men half her age.

Edina is an oddly-humorous combination of Conrad's Kurtz and the harlequin in Heart of Darkness, melded with the frenetic unpredictability of Mr. Fawlty (John Cleese) of Fawlty Towers. Patsy functions as the `straight woman' for the most part, but-- in her own immodest way-- ruthlessly parodies the biases, prejudices and facial contortions so commonly associated with upper-class middle-aged British women.

You guessed it-- Patsy hasn't eaten since her colon was removed in 1973 and lives mainly on booze, cigarettes and an annual hors d'oeuvre. Together, Saffy and Patsy battle one another for the affections of Edina, who appears to be utterly indifferent to the reality of whether people genuinely like her or not, instead she is totally obsessed and driven by the cycle of her own moods. These two are rounded out by Edina's mother, who seems to be a peculiar combination of exaggerated ignorance and devastating wit. (Those four in turn are supported by a handful of carefully crafted and brilliantly portrayed minor characters.)

Like most good works of comedic art, `AbFab' has a culture all its own, one that relies heavily on the degree to which the main characters are anti-heros, devoid of all but the most superficial and base instincts. Here in the U.S., I know of just one television comedy (Seinfeld) that could be loosely compared on that score.

American viewers will find themselves laughing at a whole host of stereotypes at once as well as the characters' peculiar personalities-- and this includes some very well aimed trans-Atlantic jabs. Each of the 12 `AbFab' shows is a gem in itself. I've never encountered one that I didn't like better on the second or third viewing. Even if you don't like Monty Python or any of the classic BBC comedies such as Are you Being Served?, you may ardently adore AbFab. I have seen nothing that comes close.

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