All the fun in being contemptuous of political correctness evaporates when Morley Safer starts taking your side. Safer, 60 Minutes' I-don't-know-much-about- art-but-I-know-what-to-sneer-at man, did a big puff piece about Absolutely Fabulous on the newsmagazine's May 21 edition. As Safer stroked stars Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley verbally, darlings, verbally I wondered about the festering core of American AbFab fans. These are the viewers for whom the vodka-swilling, chain-smoking Edina (Saunders) and Patsy (Lumley) aren't merely colorful sitcom characters; these two footloose, uninhibited women are goddesses of a certain kind of '90s camp sensibility. And here were these perfect little mistresses of irony being bludgeoned by Safer's big, clumsy praise. I'm sure more than a few fans were thinking, if this is the price of success, better the show should have been called Abject Failure.
Before it picked up the British-made AbFab, Comedy Central was best known as the fortress of solitude for Mystery Science Theater 3000 geeks. Amusingly, AbFab so energetically relentless in its own bad taste ended up giving Comedy Central some class. It's necessary to know that the channel is just starting to air the third (and final) season of new AbFabs, and they are quite fab. Best is the first episode, which manages to take swipes at Meg Ryan, repressed-memory therapy, and body piercing even as Patsy fears she has breast cancer. (Don't worry. Saunders, who writes all the scripts, doesn't turn this subject into a squeamish ''very special episode.'') Less successful is a subsequent show that introduces us to Patsy's snippy sister (Kate O'Mara), but it does have good jokes about Rollerblades and the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang.
As always, Saunders is heroic in her slapstick self-abasement, and Lumley is extraordinary as a pained, haughty beauty gone to glorious seed. (The team is poorly saluted by How To Be Absolutely Fabulous, a labored documentary about the show, also airing on Comedy Central.) It's been widely publicized that our own Roseanne has secured the rights to produce an American version of AbFab, and both she and Saunders have been quoted as saying that the key to understanding AbFab is that it's not a show about Edina and Patsy but about Edina and her straitlaced daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha). Well, that's interesting, but I don't buy it: Without Lumley's character, AbFab would be absolutely fatuous. A-