Absolutely Fabulous is absolutely fabulous

By CATHERINE SEIPP  |  Nov. 14, 2001 at 2:25 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Edina: "Shall we go and see the Stones on tour?"

Patsy: "Oh, I don't know. Mick is just a jumping scrotum with lips now and Keith, well..."

Edina: "A slick of liquid with hair braids."

"Absolutely Fabulous" is back, sweeties. After a five-year hiatus, Comedy Central premieres the first of six new episodes at various times this week.

Are Edina and Patsy as fabulous as they used to be? Yes. In fact, the real question is, how did we ever get along without them?

Although age hasn't mellowed the world's favorite British fashion victims they're as remorselessly bitchy as ever about aging hipster icons -- as usual, creator-writer-co-star Jennifer Saunders is least flattering about herself.

"Yeah, a bit older, a bit fatter," Saunders said briskly at the Comedy Central press conference. "But still enjoying it."

Edina, the London fashion publicist played by Saunders, and Edina's best friend Patsy, the fashion editor and former model played by Joanna Lumley, actually look around the same age (mid-40s) as when we last saw them, in the mid-'90s.

But in the new storylines, their desperate clawing for youth has taken an even sharper turn. "Patsy almost gets the menopause," Saunders said. "What she gets is osteoporosis. But it's quickly fixed. They just patch her."

Edina's on the floor practicing yoga in the opening episode, just like the fabulously well-preserved Madonna. Also, just like Madonna, the thing about yoga is "I can kiss my own ass from both directions," Edina explains to her disapproving daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha.)

The eternally prim Saffy is outraged about her mother's plans to iron out her wrinkles with Botox, especially as Saddam Hussein developed it for use as a chemical weapon in Iraq. "Why shouldn't we share our beauty secrets, darling," Edina responds serenely.

Patsy, who, in a running gag that would never make it past an American network executive, loathes her best friend's daughter, always quickly interrupts Edina and Saffy's family moments.

"Tell her not to speak when she's this close, I can feel her dog breath on my neck," is a typical Patsy complaint.

As Patsy and Edina contemplate a trip, Saffy mutters that she doesn't think they let people with drug convictions into New York.

"It's not a conviction, darling," insists Edina.

"Just a firm belief," notes Patsy.

So all is well with the "AbFab" world, although there have been some changes. Edina now uses a Razor scooter to get around her kitchen. Saffy's written a play about her deprived childhood, "Self-Raising Flower." Actress Jane Horrocks, who plays Edina's idiotic assistant Bubble, now also plays a new character, a vacuous, Kathie Lee Gifford-ish TV presenter named Katy Grin.

"I really wanted to [write] this bitter sort of person, and there are a lot of them," said Saunders. "There was a real rash of these people - they just sort of spread from morning television from being weather girls, and then they get prizes for having Best Bum of the Year. The public adores them."

When "AbFab" first arrived in the U.S., in 1994, there were immediate plans to do an American version. The names Kirstie Alley and Jerry Hall and Roseanne were bandied about. But nothing came of that, which is probably just as well.

"I think you could have done it five years ago, but it's a bit late now," Saunders said. "You've got 'Sex and the City.' You've had 'Cybill.' You've had shows so like it that I don't think there would be any advantage in it."

The show's effect, however, can be seen whenever you turn on a network sitcom and see a hard drinking, boy-crazy female character taking a giant pratfall.

"Will & Grace," for instance, owes a lot to "Absolutely Fabulous." As Saunders noted, "You can't turn on the TV now without seeing women flopping over. It's had a terrible influence."

The difference is that even unattractive characters on American network sitcoms are still, in some essential way, attractive. Not on "AbFab." The actresses have absolutely no vanity about presenting themselves in the worst possible light.

As Edina, Saunders prances about in hideously tight outfits that cling disastrously to her thick midriff. Julia Salwalha insists on the most awful outfits for the dowdy Saffy.

"Honestly, I've said to Julia, 'Please, God," Saunders said. "I've just been to Banana Republic and I thought she could wear this brown jumper, but she wears just the worst clothes I've ever seen. I don't know where you find clothes so bad. They're like people have died in them, they're tragic clothes. But it's up to her, really. She thinks Saffy looks like that. I think Saffy thinks she looks like a Ralph Lauren advert."

As ex-model Patsy, the tall and slim Joanna Lumley can't help injecting some glamour into the character. But that's undercut in scenes where you see Patsy sitting on the toilet or dumping her handbag detritus on the table.

"The costume designers always say, 'You know, it would be lovely if Pasty just had a little bag, a little clutch bag,'" Saunders said. "And we said, 'Well, Patsy never would have. Patsy needs a rucksack.' She has cigarettes and bottles and drugs and pants, and painkillers so when she breaks bones she can just put a painkiller in the arm..."

The main difference, though, between "Absolutely Fabulous" and American network shows is "AbFab's" blithe disregard for whether the characters are likeable or not. Even the incorrigible Karen on "Will & Grace" has her sentimental moments; an essential element of the "Will & Grace" Bible, as they say in the trade, is that Karen really does love her fat, rich (and never glimpsed) husband Stan.

But Eddie and Pats are always completely horrible. Which is, of course, what makes them so absolutely wonderful.

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