The timing is right, the parallels are there, so why resist the comparison? The hell with it, sweetie darlings: You can think of Absolutely Fabulous — or AbFab, for those who don’t have time for extraneous syllables — as a funnier, British Sex and the City, provided you refine a few details.
For one thing, AbFab came first. The brilliantly addled brainchild of comedy duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders hit U.S. shores in 1994, pairing PR exec Edina ”Eddy” Monsoon (Saunders) with pseudo-Bond girl-cum-magazine exec Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley, who actually did appear in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Drunk and foulmouthed, Pats and Eddy were more navel-gazing yet less self-aware than the Sex set — like Carrie and Co.’s dotty, champagne-fueled aunties. They wore crazy designer clothes, were always late for work, yet never seemed to do any, and were consummate (and clumsy) social climbers. Sound familiar? And talk about objectifying and marginalizing men — AbFab put a stable of studs to pasture long before Mr. Funky Spunk.
But while Sex was a wry snapshot of urban single-womanhood, AbFab was an edgier, commit-to-the-joke sitcom that more than earned its laugh track. Which meant it could take risks, like making its characters delightfully unlikable. As inane as Patsy and Edina were, they needed foils: Eddy’s long-suffering, sweater-vested shrew of a daughter, Saffy (Julia Sawalha, doing a fantastic sexy librarian, minus the sexy); her judgmental mum (June Whitfield); and her brainless assistant, Bubble (the astoundingly expressive Jane Horrocks). Incidentally, how did a whip-smart actress like Horrocks so convincingly morph into a daft peacock who calls calendars ”the paper days”? To quote Bubble: ”Who can say?”
The five Js filmed 32 episodes and a slew of specials — all of which are assembled in a fittingly tacky quilted silver album, none of which are new. (The beauty, AbFab fans, is how definitive Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything is, not how novel.) The extras are slim: a few commentaries from Saunders and a producer, a handful of featurettes and deleted scenes. But the set does let you compare the first three BBC seasons to the two produced six years later for Comedy Central (just as hilarious, if a bit too reliant on celeb guests). Want the show’s bitter lesson on what happens when men become the center of your life? Watch ”The Last Shout,” in which Saffy gets engaged to a pompous creep (John Adams’ Tom Hollander). Wonder what Eddy’s mostly absent son Serge (Josh Hamilton) looks like? Check out the special Absolutely Fabulous in New York. Just don’t be too disappointed when he turns out to be a wan imitation of Saffy. Like Sex, AbFab was all about the ladies. A-