Bound in silver lamé like a fashionable day planner, the Absolutely Fabulous – Absolutely Everything nine-DVD collection serves as a perfect symbol for the characters Edina and Patsy, the funniest female team to hit television since Lucy and Ethel: it’s extravagant, shows status, and is not completely truthful.
Originating from a sketch by the comedy team French & Saunders called “Modern Mother and Daughter,” which is included as an extra, the hysterical Absolutely Fabulous took the world by storm when it first hit the air in 1992 with its outlandish, take-no-prisoners comedy, in particular because the main characters were presented in ways women had rarely been seen before. Not only were they funny, but Edina Monsoon (creator/writer Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) were narcissistic, substance-abusing, trend-obsessed buffoons who made up for their habitual adolescence with wit that was savage and razor sharp.
The rest of the main cast includes Edina’s straight-laced daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) who is really the adult in the relationship even though she’s 16 when the series begins, Edina’s mother (June Whitfield), and Bubbles (Jane Horrocks) the dim-witted office assistant at Edina’s PR firm. All have to verbally spar with Edina and Patsy, especially Saffy who gets the worst of it from Patsy, who rarely, if ever, refers to Saffy by name, instead choosing “the bitch daughter” and “you little piece of dribble-piss,” likely because she is jealous that Saffy causes Edina to attempt to act like a grown-up, putting a stop to their fun. However, everyone gives as good as they get. One of the many times Edina is focused on her weight she says, “Inside of me, sweetie, inside of me, there’s a thin person screaming to get out.” To which her mother replies, “Just the one, dear?”
The adventures cover a broad spectrum, from a simple lunch for Edina’s 40th birthday party at her home that includes her two ex-husbands to a trip to Morocco where Patsy sells Saffy into slavery. The redesign of Edina’s kitchen after being set ablaze by Patsy’s cigarette becomes an international affair as the duo heads to New York City looking for just the right door knob. The one common thread is the many laughs they elicit.
The writing is solid as while the characters grow over the years, they don’t change who they are. Saffy goes to college and in season five comes home from relief work in Africa pregnant. The thought of being a grandmother terrifies Edina although when she learns the father is black, she becomes excited by the prospect of a mixed race baby because they are the “Chanel of babies.” However, Edina’s grandparenting skills are even worse than her parenting skills and when the series ends, her relationship with Saffy is in bad shape.
The Absolutely Everything set repackages all the previous season and special DVD releases, presenting all 37 episodes that comprise the series so far and the previously released extras. There are many sets of outtakes, and they stand out because they are actually funny in comparison to many other DVDs.
On the season four discs there is episode commentary by Saunders and executive producer Jon Plowman. It is very interesting to hear her talk about the show and the changes in TV that took placed during the series breaks, such as the popularity of Sex and the City, which inspired “Donkey.” Unlike in America, the British have short seasons for television programs; the longest for Ab Fab was season five with eight episodes, and the creators take time off to recharge their juices, increasing the likelihood of recreating high quality work so the creative team doesn’t damage the brand with mediocrity, unlike the factory mentality here in the States that has ruined many a series, such as Seinfeld and The Simpsons. Although to be fair, the audiences, or “miserable little turnips” as Patsy would call them, who sit through the substandard work are also at fault, but that’s best left for another discussion.
The most intriguing extra and one quite possibly unique in television history is the inclusion of the Mirrorball pilot, a television program created by Saunders in 2000 between the third and fourth Ab Fab seasons that had the same cast play different characters. The show revolves around a group of struggling actors and was funny, but apparently didn’t catch on. Too bad, because even though the following Ab Fab seasons were very good, Mirrorball deserved to run at least a full season of six episodes.
Other extras include old footage of Joanna as a model, two French & Saunders sketches, and “Ab Fab: A Life,” a clip show from 1998 that aired between “The Last Shout” episodes and season four.
Although understandable due to licensing issues, what keeps the title “Absolutely Everything” from being completely accurate is the exclusion of a sketch from the 2005 Comic Relief Special and the “Satan, Darling” episode from Roseanne in 1996 that featured Edina and Patsy. Roseanne Barr tried getting her own version of Ab Fab on television, but failed. Two other shows, High Society and Cybill, did air, but couldn’t hold a candle to the original.
Although a big commitment, Absolutely Fabulous – Absolutely Everything belongs on the library shelf of any serious fan of television comedy. Pound for pound, one of the funniest sitcoms ever.