Absolutely Fabulous,” British sitcom about a rich, self-absorbed, falling-down-drunk woman, is not always as funny as it intends to be, but it is
absolutely unique, absolutely rude and absolutely politically incorrect. The sitcom from, believe it or not, the BBC, would likely turn off American masses, but, thanks to its cable berth, cult status is assured.
Though the show is a huge hit in the U.K., only a dozen episodes have been taped since 1992 (you know how eccentric the English are with their TV schedules).
After viewing the first four episodes, it seems clear that either “AbFab” grows on you, or the sitcom, under producer Jon Plowman, didn’t really hit its stride until the third seg. Maybe both.
The first episode, almost plotless, shows trendy and successful designer Edina (Jennifer Saunders, who also scripted the show) nursing a raging hangover as she tries to get ready for a fashion show that evening.
Edina’s improbably well-adjusted 16-year-old daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha) scoffs at her mother’s psychic psychiatrist, color channeler and thrice-weekly enemas, with Edina reprimanding: “It’s called colonic irrigation, darling; it’s not to be sniffed at.”
Hours late for work, Edina still allows chum Patsy (Joanna Lumley) to detour her onto a binge of shopping and eating, and the episode ends with our heroine sprawled in the gutter after the successful fashion show.
Edina is the focus of each scene, but the series would benefit if it were more of an ensemble — beware of actors who write vehicles for themselves — since some of the biggest laughs come from the underutilized supporting characters.
Series’ standout is Joanna Lumley as a hilarious study of rich Euro trash, with beehive hairdo, stiletto heels and cigarette constantly dangling, who recalls with horror the fact that she once gave up drinking (“Worst eight hours of my life”).
Sawalha is likable as the level-headed, long-suffering daughter, and June Whitfield is funny as Edina’s mom.
Edina is a daring comical character, and Saunders plays her perfectly; but the manipulative, whining drama-queen bit can grow tiresome and, oddly, cuts for commercial breaks may help (the segs, a full 30 minutes long, are being aired uncut on ad-sponsored Comedy Central).
Aside from “Buffalo Bill,” few U.S. sitcoms have centered on unredeemingly selfish characters. The frantic, unsentimental approach here is similar to Britain’s “Fawlty Towers,” but Basil Fawlty got his comeuppance in each episode.
“AbFab” offers no such sense of justice, which may give viewers the heebie-jeebies, since Americans like to believe that the wicked, even if they’re amusing, will get punished.
But the characters are originals, and “AbFab” has the courage of its convictions, encouraging audiences to find humor in such recent comedic taboos as substance abuse or mistreated offspring.
Director Bob Spiers does smart work and all tech credits are pro, with special mention to Sharon Lewis and Sarah Burns for their outrageous costumes.
Comedy Central debuts the series Sunday with a marathon of all 12, then slots it on a weekly basis; six more episodes of the third season are currently taping.