To call it a mere sitcom would be an insult. AbFab follows the rich lives and misadventures of Patsy (Joanna Lumley) and Edina (series creator Jennifer Saunders), two shallow, trendy, self-absorbed hedonists showing us that youth is wasted on the young. Ugly, and wickedly funny - a godsend compared to the relentlessly moral, rote, and well-scrubbed fare of American television. It shows what magic can result when creative folks are freed from the assembly-line dictates of U.S. TV.

Wheels on fire. Rolling down the road. Best notify my next of kin, this wheel shall explode....

Background

The preceding text is the chorus from "This Wheel’s On Fire," written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko, played to the opening and closing credits of one of Britain's best loved sitcoms. Absolutely Fabulous is a BBC comedy show that was first produced in the 1990's (remember the 90's?).

The show follows the lives of Edina Monsoon and her friend Patsy Stone played by Joanna Lumley. The two are supposedly high-flying members of society, at least they try to be. Sadly neither are very hard-working or clever, and both are veritable alcoholics, especially Patsy. Not only does Edina have to cope with Patsy, who often seems to get her in trouble, but also her dopey office assistant Bubble. The only vaguely sane person is Saffron Monsoon played by Julia Sawhalha, Edina's daughter, not that you would think it. Indeed, "Saffy-sweetie" as Edina calls her, is the only responsible adult in the household. Edina and Patsy get up to a great deal of trouble and you wonder how either of them could afford the living that they enjoy!

Though many fans wanted it to last longer than its first three seasons, the creator and actress who plays Edina Monsoon, Jennifer Saunders, said that to have had it run for more than that, would probably have resulted in it exiting on a low than a high. Rather than stretch the series out for as long as possible with stale scripts, it was decided to restrict the number of series and have each episode relatively fresh. Thus AbFab, as it is otherwise known, is loved rather than loathed.

However in recent years, Saunders broke her own rules and was pressured into writing a new series. There had always been the odd "Christmas special" but in 2000 a fourth series was produced. As feared, it lacked the punch the series had had before. The routine was getting old - just as Saunders predicted it would. But it was still funnier than a lot of other British comedy. They're rich, they've got wonderful houses and don't have to work much - but they're thick as a doorpost and we can all laugh at them!

Personal thoughts

Though Absolutely Fabulous is not my favourite British comedy (that honour falling to Fawlty Towers, it is still hilariously funny. Virtually all of the main characters are complete basket cases, whether they are funny in the head like Bubble, or just trying to keep up with a sense of fashion that they did not understand when they were 18 and so could never possibly get to grips with when they were 40 (Edina)! But the main reason it's funny is because of they way it ridicules that section of society that thinks it dresses like a dream, but as far as we are concerned looks like a bunch of stupid twits.

But at the same time we feel sorry for Eddy. We can identify with her, the sad, unattractive one who always tried to keep up with her peers but could never really fit in. She was too....geeky. She was always one step behind with the ever changing fashions of the 60s and 70s. Though she never admitted it, I doubt she really knew what was fashionable or why people wore what they did. She tries to be a "good" mum sometimes but inevitably fails because she never really grew up herself, treating Saffy like her mum.

Indeed much of the show revolves around the fight between the genders. Edina is the worst example of a baby boomer. She wants it all. She wants to stay young, dressing how she wants to, even though it's very clear she doesn't have the features or figure to pull it off, even if her ensembles were stylish). She wants to indulge in retail therapy, get completely drunk each night and not worry about the consequences. She certainly does not want to work or save money - her ex-husbands are often an extra source of money, even after they have paid her the alimony (the bambi-eyes go into action)! She relies on Saffy for everything. Saffy is not just embarrassed about her mother but in some ways has been emotionally damaged by Edina (and Patsy's) behaviour. Even Saffy's friends don't escape - one of her friends was given a chemical burn that horribly scared her neck. Edina seems to hate all of Saffy's friends (apart from the good-looking men), probably because they distract Saffy from attending to her mother's whims. However Saffy does get her own back sometimes and it is great to see when she does.

Now..... Patsy. Well I'd say more people laugh at her, though some want to be like she was when she was younger (and not a man). She WAS fashionable in her youth (and still is in a way). She was also a slut, but the less said about that the better. Patsy is like Edina's evil gremlin, that little devil that tells you to be bad and not listen to your mother (or daughter in Edina's case). As Patsy is her best friend, this means that Edina inevitably does the wrong thing. Of course she pays for this naivety and lack of judgement in many, many ways. Though she tries to gain sympathy from those around her (or perhaps I should say "inflict guilt upon"), the sensible ones know when to duck!

Great Quotes

Patsy
"You know in Bangkok they have toilets that insert a cigarette"
"My ring needs resealing, I know the gutters sagging a bit but how about a quick plunge up the waste pipe?"
"This little baby is like a Prozac raindrop from a thundercloud of depression."
"Eddy, your stomach's just like a dog waiting to be fed - it just hangs there until you want to kick it."
"One snap of my fingers and I can raise hemlines so high the whole world's your gynecologist."

Eddy
"I don't think that "Kylie Minogue chokes on vegetarian sausage after all-night not-drinking binge at safe celebrity nightspot," has quite the same ring about it."
"Don't think you're so clever. I've started repressed false memory therapy; I'll get something on you yet. You in a wood in a hood. It's all coming back to me."
"And excuse me if I sue when I die prematurely of passive boredom. Of dull-as-dishwater-daughter-induced stress."
"I'm just not the sort of woman who wants to spend a free afternoon squatted over a small hand mirror, you know. For God's sake, I've seen doctors go pale."
"There was a time I was out there. I was hip. I was dangerous. The zeitgeist blew from me!"

Saffy
"Get through? Mum, you've absolved yourself of responsibility. You live from self-induced crisis to self-induced crisis. Someone does your hair, someone chooses what you wear, someone does your brain, someone tells you what to eat and three times a week someone sticks a hose up your bum and flushes it all out of you!"
Saffy - 'I thought they didn't let people with drug convictions into America.'
Patsy - 'It's not so much a conviction, darling. It's more of a strong belief.'

Principal cast

Edina Monsoon - Jennifer Saunders
Patsy Stone - Joanna Lumley
Saffron Monsoon - Julia Sawhalha
Bubble - Jane Horrocks
Gran - June Whitfield

Cameos

Britt Eklund as herself in "New Best Friend" (2nd series, ep. 4)
Mo Gaffney as Bo in "Birthday" (1st series, ep. 6)
Lulu as herself "New Best Friend" (2nd series, ep. 4)
Eleanor Bron as Patsy's mom in "Magazine"& "Birth" (1st series, ep. 5 & 2nd series, ep. 4)
Naomi Campbell as herself in "Jealous" (3rd series, ep. 4)
Adrian Edmondson as "Hamish" in "Magazine"& "New Best Friend" (1st series, ep. 5 & 2nd series, ep. 4)
Dawn French as Kathy in "Magazine" (1st series, ep. 5)
Richard E. Grant as "Justin" in "Hospital" (2nd series, ep. 1)
Germaine Greer as "mother" in "Hospital" (2nd series, ep. 1)
Kate O'Mara as Jackie in "Happy New Year" (3rd series, ep. 2)
Suzi Quattro as Nurse in "Hospital" (2nd series, ep. 1)
Mandy Rice-Davies as "Patsy" in "Hospital" (2nd series, ep. 1)
Miranda Richardson as "Bettina" in "New Best Friend" (2nd series, ep. 4)
Helena Bonham-Carter as "Saffron" in "Hospital" (2nd series, ep. 1)

Sources
http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/abfab
http://www.ab-fab.nl
http://abfabstuff.tripod.com

Absolutely Fabulous is a veritable institution. It's ranked 17th on the list of 50 of Britain's Greatest Sitcoms and got Jennifer Saunders not only accolades but genuine invites to society parties.

It stemmed from an idea by Dawn French and Saunders in their sketch comedy series, a one-off gag that's been done ever since Mad Magazine dropped a gag in the 1960s predicting that since children often rebel from their parents, the generation bred out of the hippie Baby Boomer types will probably end up Young Republicans who are very, VERY interested in the total in their stock portfolios. For the record that was also the driving idea behind Family Ties, which launched the career of Michael J. Fox. His Alex P. Keaton was a Reaganite "MBA = BMW" hiigh mover who eschewed his left liberal Democrat then thirtysomething parents.

The gag had French as "Saffron", the together, boring, and ultimately staid and quiet mature daughter being argued at by a hyperkinetic, hip, permanently arrested development Saunders - inverting the normal parent/child relationship but also making exactly the same gag as before. There was a germ of an idea here, but it incubated really well. Especially when Saunders, who by now had children, went on "play dates" with other people and their kids who had as much money as her and husband Adrian Edmonson had come up with with various hit series and film apperances. And they indeed did see trophy wife hopped up on drugs trying to look and act as young as possible in the company of a very sober, very somber child. That was the key ingredient to inject the right DNA into the show, and it was a smash hit.

It follows the life of Edina Monsoon, the name itself a nod to her husband's sometime nom de plume "Eddie Monsoon", a corruption of "Edmonson". She is a hippy Baby Boomer with far too much money than she should be allowed to have, living in a permanent world of inane fad after fashion craze, blitzed out on drugs and alcohol. She supposedly works in PR, which simply involves her using her somehow-obtained well-connected status and general "knows everyone at all the parties, darling" to make her clients be seen at the latest in-place. She's made enough doing it (as well as collecting money off two ex-husbands) to afford a large residence in London as well as any impulse purchase she feels like (in one episode, she and Patsy go to New York City looking for exactly the right handle for a door.

Her prime focus in life is her partner in crime and best friend Patsy Stone, who similarly lives on a steady diet of drugs and champagne. She has one of those nebulous jobs tthat don't really exist but that are sold to young women fantasy - where you are just fabulous, have no real deadlines, no actual work to do but it involves something to do with magazine publishing. Sort of an American "Sex In The City" where magazine publishing doesn't involve photo shoots, deadlines, word counts and a frenetic pace but simply looking at a photograph with a loupe and saying "yes to this one, no to that one, God that was tiring, thanks for the $100,000 check, I'm going to margaritas with my besties". Net amount of work done in day, 15 minutes.

The fly in the ointment, not only to the relationship between the two women but a necessary brake on Edina's whirlwind life of excess is her very sober (in every way) daughter, Saffron. Saffron works hard at school (and eventually in University), dresses in unflattering and unfashionable cardigans, has no obvious interest in sex (but does get pregnant later in the series after an affair during a mission trip to Africa). Her mother's advice is something to the effect of "get some guy's penis in there before it heals over". For the record just to give you an idea of the sort of woman Edina is upon finding she's having a mixed-race baby as a grandchild, her initial existential horror at being old enough to be a grandmother is completely replaced with the ecstacy of knowing she has the perfect accessory for next year's parties.

Patsy hates Saffron, because Saffron represents not only the "angel" counterpart to her "devil" on Edina's other shoulder, but because Saffron represents a part of life that even if Patsy never wanted, will never have. As for Edina, her natural disposition is to see responsibility as a drag, and the company of someone who isn't a vapid club kid annoying - but deep down recognizes that Saffron is a reminder that she's a truly horrible person.

Edina actually has two children - an older firstborn son named Serge who fled as soon as he was able to leave. Like Saffron.When Edina finds out he's gay and living in New York City, she imagines some kind of good looking, well-connected artistic up and coming poster boy for Out Magazine, and to her dismay finds he's a very pedestrian and boring book salesman at the Strand. Which to her dismay is not a UK-themed nightclub full of poppers , Ecstasy and go-go boys, but a used bookstore.

The initial sketch that prompted the show was quite fascinating in one other respect - when French and Saunders (who were roommates at university) were in college Dawn was the one to go to classes, get a part time job and try and "work on a backup plan" in case The Comedy Strip thing ever failed, whereas Saunders had cashed her student grant and was lounging around smoking cigarettes and going to classes when the mood struck her.

And even though Saunders could never be accused of being anything remotely like her alter-ego Edina, she was in show business which involved a lot of vapid schmoozing and working in "creative" fields type stuff. Even though she turned out horribly, horribly bourgeois (her daughter was harassed by activists when she and Saunders showed up in full regalia for a fox hunt) one wonders how much of this is a personal exorcism or at least an exploration of what she might have scared she would become.

Naturally, the kinds of people this show parodies just LOVE it, sweetie darling, and when they wanted to attend THE Mercedes-Benz fashion week in New York City naturally they were completely allowed to film backstage and have Edina show up in character and sit ringside for the fashion show as a location. And welcomed with open arms and greeted IN CHARACTER with enthusiasm.

But like all good things, they must come to an end. One of the major downsides of the show is that it was born from the "shouty" comedy stylings of the early 1980s, in the mold of The Young Ones and its spiritual successor Bottom in which EVERYONE! SHOUTS! AT! EVERYONE! ELSE! ALL! THE! BLOODY! TIME! After a while you lose sympathy for Saffron - who if you think about it was literally abandoned as a child and forced to become her own mother's parent and dealing with the severe psychological trauma resulting from this - because she's always so unpleasantly shouting and scolding. And there's something in Saunders' feelings about that kind of person that make an incredibly cruel joke at that character's expense that when Saffron writes an English equivalent of an off-off-Broadway play about growing up abandoned, the audience thinks it incredibly funny, the actors run with the ball and read the lines as a comedy, and the actors end up going to lunch with their real world counterparts, smooch, kissy kissy, sweetie, darling.

Saunders had an idea for another series that was originally supposed to be called Mirrorball but decided it was really AbFab II and would be lensed as such. But finally Saunders had had enough and after several seasons and a movie drew the curtain on the characters, the property and the show - finding them simply a parody of themselves by this point with nothing more to say.

 

 

 

 

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