Britain's fabulous `AbFab' is back

Sitcom: The middle-aged fashion tarts are as loopy as ever on Comedy Central.

November 12, 2001|By Deborah Bach | Deborah Bach,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a new episode of Absolutely Fabulous, Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) is sitting with her daughter in a trendy restaurant when she spots a large Buddha statue across the room.

"Better not let the Taliban know it's here," she says to Saffy, played by Julia Sawalha. Then she wonders, "Darling, if you have a fatwah on you, does it make you fat?"

The smash British comedy, which starts a new six-episode season tonight on Comedy Central, seems more relevant than ever. The restaurant episode was reportedly filmed around the same time the Taliban, in its war on "false idols," destroyed two giant Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, last March. Ab Fab resonates because of its timely, acerbic humor but offers something perhaps even more valuable -- escape.

The show chronicles the superficial exploits of booze-swilling, fad-chasing fashion tarts Eddy and best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley), fortysomethings who share a Peter Pan complex, along with plenty of ciggies and Veuve Clicquot. In a nation consumed by anthrax fears and other terrorist threats, Ab Fab's return couldn't come at a better time.

As the United States slides further into a recession, vicariously watching Ed and Pats stagger around London, blowing money on expensive lunches and designer duds, may be just what the shrink ordered.

"It's broad, slapstick comedy, and people need comedy now," says Tony Fox, Comedy Central's executive vice president of corporate communications. "After September, our ratings went up. The news was so consumed by the tragedy and the terrorist attacks that I think people couldn't absorb much more and needed an escape."

Ab Fab fans have waited years for that escape. The last episode, a one-hour special, first aired on Comedy Central in 1997. The interim years have thankfully had little effect on Eddy and Patsy, who return as wickedly funny and unrepentant as ever. Eddy is a twice-divorced fashion publicist who starts the new season with a new business in television production, while the promiscuous, chain-smoking Patsy has been promoted to editor of a fashion magazine.

Straight-laced, dowdy Saffy is even more uptight and just as hostile toward Patsy, whom she views as a parasitic tramp living off her mother. Tonight, Eddy and Pats try to regain their youth through injections of "Parralox," which freeze Patsy's overmade face into a rubbery mask.

"You look like a zombie," Saffy tells her disgustedly. "Is this your way of cheating death -- by embalming early?"

Returning to the cast are June Whitfield as Edina's affable but memory-deficient mother, whom Eddy refers to as "that old woman," and Jane Horrocks, doubling as Eddy's vacuous assistant, Bubble, and new character Katy Grin, Bubble's perky cousin who works as a television presenter.

Ab Fab generated Comedy Central's highest ratings for years, but Fox admits the network's executives were skeptical at first. "It was a show that no one else in this country had the guts to put on the air because of its subject matter," he says. "Back then, the notion of the lead characters of a sitcom sleeping around, falling down drunk, doing drugs was never done."

Fox believes the show's enormous popularity stems largely from the delicious naughtiness of the two lead characters.

"These are characters everyone would love to be able to behave like," he says. "They're certainly not role models, but the notion they can just carry on the way they want without a lot of consequences is something everyone can identify with. They're outrageous characters. Their behavior is bad, but they have a blast."

The show has been widely lauded for its irreverently clever scripts, penned entirely by Saunders. Its stars were too fab to bother with an American press tour, but Saunders told the British press that the new series was born after the Ab Fab team reunited last Christmas for a special, Mirrorball.

"We had such a great time making Mirrorball that we all wanted to work together again," says Saunders, 42.

Lumley, 55, didn't need much convincing to return to her "tragically vile" character. "She's good fun to play, she wears some nice clothes, she gets some good lines, and people like old Pats," she says, adding with mock indignation, "I don't think she's very badly behaved in the series. I've done nothing outrageous at all yet."

Fox says that Saunders originally ended the series to "bow out on top but may now be considering an extended Ab Fab run.

"Jennifer has said that she was so pleased with the way these episodes came out that she feels she's got more to say. My impression is that she's interested in doing another six episodes."

Just don't tell the Taliban, sweetie darling.

Absolutely Fabulous

What: Season premiere

When: Tonight at 9

Where: Cable channel Comedy Central

In brief: Back with attitude.

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