Absolutely Fabulous is enjoying a bit of a resurgence because its writer-star, Jennifer Saunders, won a BAFTA (a British Oscar/Emmy) for her performance as Edina Monsoon, the monstrously self-absorbed and self-indulgent PR exec. This year, AbFab fans’ appetites were whetted with news that 3 special episodes will be filmed.
The first of this trio, “Identity” was aired back in February. I just downloaded it and got around to watching it – I’m glad I did. First thing’s first – the whole cast is back, which is great (a weird coincidence: all of the actresses’ first names start with the letter “J” – try it). Another we have to address is Saunders’ altered appearance – she was fighting cancer at the time, which may explain her slightly heavier look.
So, that aside “Identity” is a great episode. The show opens with Edina waking up and hitting snooze on her myriad of PED’s. She gets dressed up and drives to a jail. On her way, her chauffeur drives through Brixton, and still believing she’s hip, she rolls down her window and starts to drawl in patois until some kids start to chase down the car, and quickly, the Holland Park returns and she urges the driver to peel rubber as she quickly rolls up the windows.
We don’t know where Eddy’s going. She even has to get there on a ferry. Finally, we discover she’s driven up to a jail. Uh oh – apparently in the five, six years that we haven’t seen the gang, Patsy (Joanna Lumley) was finally nicked for something.
The gates open to reveal…Saffy! That’s right it wasn’t Patsy, but stern, grim-faced Saffron Monsoon (Julia Sawalha) who was arrested. By the way, I just got off a marathon of watching four seasons of Lark Rise to Candleford, so Sawalha isn’t Saffy anymore, but Dorcas Lane – also, Sawalha’s gotten a lot hotter – she was particularly dowdy and dumpy in the last couple seasons ofAbFab.
So of course, we’re shocked that Saffy’s been in jail, but I rolled my eyes a bit when the reason for her arrest was explained: she was involved in getting illegal aliens fake passports and apparently she didn’t even know. I thought this was a cop out – it would’ve been extra awesome if Saunders had written that Saffy actually broke a law on purpose.
Back at home, Eddy’s mother (the evergreen June Whitfield), her Dada-esque assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks), and her ex Justin (Christopher Malcolm) are there to meet Saffy. Before long, our favorite, bottle-blonde, acid-tongued sidekick arrives in the familiar kitchen, and Patsy initially is met with fear and trepidation, but quickly she toasts Saffy because it comes out that Saffy was kind of hard in jail.
Then Saunders trots out a great Kardashian joke, when Saffy asks for updates on what’s been going on. Instead of talking about life, family, friends, Patsy and Eddy started to gleefully talk about tabloid culture, skewering the Kardashians. Sure, that family’s an easy target, but still, it’s pretty fun to have Khloe Kardashian referred to as an amoeba, ready to split into another Kardashian.
Next scene we’re at Saffy’s room – I love scenes in Saffy’s bedroom because some insane shit happened – for fellow devotees, the best was when in “Last Shout” Eddy inches into Saffy’s bedroom on her wedding day. At first mother and daughter share a lovely moment, before Eddy heaves her massive girth on her little daughter and Patsy dashes in and yanks off Saffy’s upper lip with waxed tape. In another potentially trauma-inducing moment in “Gay” Eddy and Patsy break into Saffy’s room, but have to escape because of Saffy’s return. The next morning, Saffy wakes up and sees her door is open. She closes the door and sees that Patsy accidentally hung herself on a coat hook on the back of the door: she looked like a corpse, which sent Saffy screaming.
Anyways, I digress. Saffy’s room. Eddy comes in and she shares a nice moment with Saffy, who asks if it’s alright if she brings home a friend from jail. Eddy, always hoping there’s something interesting about her daughter, hopes Saffy indulged in some Sapphic exploration. But Saffy’s not gay, and her friend is just a young lady that looked up to her. The latter AbFabs are pretty self-reflective, and this was, of course, a reference to an early episode where Eddy wishes Saffy to be gay to explain her sad love life.
We get to meet Saffy’s jail bird friend, Baron – played the wonderful and brilliant comedienne Lucy Montgomery. Played with Chav brilliance, she towers over the rest of the cast. Like Matt Lucas’ Vicki Pollard or Catherine Tate’s Lauren Cooper, Baron is a foul-tempered, slang-slinging Chav. Eddy again trying to reassert herself into urban chic, adopted the fractured slang that betrayed her middle age: again, this is another hark back to when Eddy learned that Saffy’s baby daddy was black and she daydreamt that she was a regular fixture in Brixon, sporting dreds and a red tracksuit.
Patsy isn’t as interested in Baron – in fact, she disappeared from sight. Eddy finds her best friend, shaking and cowering: a strange sight for the usually indefatigable Patsy Stone. Apparently Baron’s a drug pusher, and Paty’s major supplier. Patsy also owes Baron money – lots of it – £50,000. Patsy and Eddy panic as Baron flexes her considerable muscle and demands her money. She won’t leave without it. Unfortunately, Saffy becomes Baron’s bitch, and must wait on her former cellmate hand and foot.
Now, in an earlier episode, Eddy would’ve just paid Baron – but the economy’s tough on everyone, including the folks at AbFab. They just don’t have that kind of money. It’s interesting to see them worry about money, since Eddy’s usually just spending money without any regard (there’s even a shopping montage earlier in the episode).
To figure out a way to fix their money issues, Saffy comes out with a corker: Patsy’s pension. Yup, Patsy’s eligible for pension benefits. Of course, a running joke is that we don’t know how old Patsy is, even though she insists she’s 39. Joanna Lumley’s 66, and she looks fantastic, but is bravely aware that she doesn’t look 39, which gives Patsy’s conceit the appropriate amount of hysterical desperation. And we’re to understand that Patsy’s ancient, held together by a chemical plant’s worth of chemicals and drugs. Given this, of course Saffy and Eddy assume that Patsy’s owed millions.
If there is one scene in AbFab I never thought I’d see, it’s Eddy and Patsy in an office building: the pension benefits office. Patsy’s experienced some sort of existentialist crisis as aside from a post office booklet, Patsy has nothing to prove her identity. She feels she’s “no one” because she has no ID and a fake passport (though it’s a moment of discontinuity – we know in the past, Patsy jets to New York, LA and Paris on a passport with a pic in her biopage that’s about forty years old).
Eddy’s right – Patsy’s got millions of pounds. She pays off Baron, who quickly leaves. Not used to holding cash, she needs instructing. Eddy hands her a beautiful wallet, Stella McCartney. Patsy mistaking it for a glittery mobile, answers it. “Stella?” Eddy must explain the concept of a wallet to her friend – again, a great gag, but not really realistic, given that Patsy’s a fashion maven.
And so the episode ends. Like a lot of episodes of the show, the conflict rises way too late, so the resolution feels a bit rushed – this episode is not exception. In my mind, I was waiting for Baron to threaten to stay indefinitely, even if she gets her money. But that never happens. Still, it’s a great episode that provided some real guffaws. The cast is top-drawer: Saunders literally throws herself into the role and to this day, no one can play snake-like evil like Lumley; Horrocks is also fantastic, being able to make the absurdist nature of her jokes palpable, and there’s a priceless cameo by Naoko Mori as Saffy’s increasingly insane best friend Sarah; Sawalha also holds her own, despite being the sole straight man in a loony bin. The show isn’t as fresh as it was 20 years ago – after all, in the face of Judd Apatow, Seth MacFarlane and Bridesmaids, the drugs-and-booze jokes of AbFab are starting to look a bit quaint: still, Eddy and Patsy prove to be fantastic anti-heroines.
Click here to watch Absolutely Fabulous the 20th annivesary specials on amazon.com Instant Video.