They’re back, and they’re more desperate, more tragically hip, more star-struck and status-conscious than ever.
Yes, sweetie darling, “Absolutely Fabulous” is set to return Jan. 2 on the Oxygen network with a fresh batch of misadventures featuring those wickedly funny fashion victims, Patsy and Edina, as embodied by actress Joanna Lumley and series creator/writer Jennifer Saunders.
It’s been a decade since “AbFab” first made noise in this country (the series bowed in 1992 on the BBC and in 1994 on Comedy Central), but Saunders has not lost any of her touch for melding satire and social commentary with slapstick and gross-out humor. No one working in English-language television today offers a more unvarnished look at how women of privilege grapple with the aging process than Saunders. (There’s a discussion in the first episode of Edina donating collagen from her rear end to embellish Patsy’s lips that is not for the squeamish.)
In the first of the eight new episodes co-produced by the BBC and Oxygen, the champagne-addled Edina is thrown for a loop when she learns that her daughter, Saffy, has returned home to London from a stint as a humanitarian aid worker in Africa with a baby on the way.
“Cruel genetic fate. You are turning into me -- the sausage shape that comes to us all,” Edina yells at Saffy after noticing that she’s put on weight but before Saffy works up the nerve to break the news of her pregnancy.
Writer friendly system
The consistent quality of “AbFab” is a testament to the writer-friendly British TV production system of allowing creatives to deliver as many good episodes as they have in them on a timetable that is more or less of their own choosing -- a stark contrast to the assembly-line American system of turning out 22 episodes a year for the September-May TV season.
Saunders delivered an “AbFab” Christmas special last year but hasn’t produced multiple episodes of the show since 2001, and before that, “AbFab” rested for several years in the late 1990s. Long or short, the breaks give Saunders ample time to demonstrate how her Glam-era relics are becoming more passe (or “pathetic” as Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice, declares to Edina in the season opener) with the passage of time, according to “AbFab” executive producer Jon Plowman.
“It’s inevitable that they are slightly more desperate,” Plowman says. “They’re clinging to the wreckage of their lives rather than being out there and in the moment, and now they’re struggling with money ... Quite rightly, (Patsy and Edina) have aged along with the program.”
The “AbFab” characters were originally dreamed up for a BBC sketch comedy program that Saunders has done off and on since the late 1980s with her longtime collaborator Dawn French.
The best “French and Saunders” sketches rival “AbFab” for sheer hilarity, particularly their movie and music video parodies (now preserved on “F&S” DVD compilations). The latest “F&S” special, featuring their take on “The Matrix” and the Britney Spears-Madonna lip-lock from this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, premiered in Britain last week and is expected to make its way to the United States early next year, Plowman says.