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LOVELY SWEETIE...

Does the name Edina Monsoon mean anything to you? How about Patsy? Saffy? Bubble? If not, you are missing something major, believe me. These names refer to characters from a british sitcom called Absolutely Fabulous. And this title couldn't be more accurate...

This sitcom is one of the funniest, wittiest and brilliant comedy to ever come out of England. The first time the show aired was back in 1992 on the BBC. It ran for three season completing only 18 episodes. And after first being rejected by every American Network, it was finally picked by the Comedy Central channel where it acquired a fervent cult following. As a matter of fact, they started to shoot new episodes in 2000 due to the show's big popularity. Jennifer Saunders, the brunette part of the duo, plays the lead character Edina Monsoon simply as Eddie. She collaborates on the writing of every episode.

The concept for this series actually began as a sketch from the French and Saunders comedy team composed of Jennifer and her partner "Dawn French". They are a well-known stand-up duo which has been very popular in England for many years. They did a sketch on a reversal mother-daughter relationship with Dawn playing the role of the daughter that Julia Sawalha would eventually snatch on the series. The sketch was very well-received, giving Dawn and Jennifer the idea to develop a series around it. Although Dawn isn't part of the regular cast, she appeared once on the show as a television host in the episode called Magazine.

This little TV gem is like a mini-series and some sort of a saga, the episodes having a continuous format. It is centered around Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders), a woman in her late thirties who is loud, eccentric, bitchy, never far away from a bottle of gin with a joint in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She refers to most people as sweetie and darling.

She has two children: a son named Serge who is away but often talked about by his mother (who worships him...) and a daughter, Saffron or Saffy who lives at home and is the complete opposite of her mother. She is very straight-laced, almost like a geek, dressing like a woman in her 40's and acting like the "straight man" to Edina and Patsy's antics...

The core of the show is the relationship between Edina and her daughter, in a reversal mother-daughter relationship. The daughter in this case being the responsible adult while the mother acts like a spoiled teenager. Edina treats Saffron like a slave, ordering her around as if she was her maid while Saffy disapproves of everything her mother does vehemently, this being the key in the comedic aspect of the show.

There is also the relationship between Edina and Patsy which is also a very important element in the series. Patricia Stone is a total alcoholic and drug-addict in her late 40's even though she only admits being 39. She is completely addicted to sex in every shape and form and runs after any man within her sight. Both Eddie and Patsy are completely fascinated and enthralled by the fashion world and spend countless hours shopping and looking at magazines, bitching about the models while secretly worshipping them...

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A DELIGHT...

I discovered Ab Fab as it is often called back in 1993. I was in a gay bar, trying to find something to do. Then, a music video airing on a monitor screen caught my attention. The song was called Absolutely Fabulous from The Pet Shop Boys. Even though I couldn't hear the sound, the video was so crazy that I couldn't help but be fascinated.

We would see what looked like scenes from a sitcom, with bits of dialogue and comedic stunts by two loud women who looked more like drag queens than anything else. I was instantly fascinated by these very strange characters. I had never heard of Ab Fab before and remember thinking how I would love to see the shows the video was obviously based on. I did some research and eventually found out it was taken from a British television show even though I still didn't know much about it. After all, at this point the Internet wasn't a part of our world yet and I couldn't get much information on the show.

I went back to that bar many times, always hoping to see this video again. A few months after that, I saw an ad on television talking about the show which would be aired soon. I watched every episode but have to admit that, although I enjoyed it at the time, it was nowhere near as much as I do now. I taped most of the shows on their original run but didn't really watch them much after that.

But then a while ago, I bought a tape called AbFab moments and rediscovered it in a whole new way, with a more sophisticated and adult perspective than before. So, I went and bought each and every tape and started to watch them incessantly. The acting is so good that I can't help but pop in a tape of the saga in the VCR as often as possible.

I didn't really "get" it at the time it first aired and it took me a while to really appreciate all the subtleties in the acting which is the strongest aspect by far. All critics agreed that this show is outstanding. I don't know why but I wasn't that impressed with it back then. I probably didn't have the proper insight into understand how powerful the acting is. But now, that's a whole new story. The satire aspect of it all is quite remarkable. Here is a brief description of the major characters....

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EDINA MONSOON

This is the lead character. Eddie is a woman who is in search of herself, through massage, spiritual journeys, colonic irrigation and drug use. She is selfish, rude, obnoxious, very loud and completely adorable. The actress portraying her is Jennifer Saunders, a british comedy actress. As part of the very popular French and Saunders duo in Britain with Dawn French, she has done everything from parodying Marilyn Monroe to emulating Batman. Jennifer played a bit part in the movie "Spice world" and appeared in the video Who do you think you are by the Spice Girls.

She also had a small recurring role on Friends (the american television sitcom) as Emily's mother, the woman who almost married Ross until he belted Rachel's name at the altar... She is amazingly gifted and I must admit that the main reason I watch the tapes of Ab Fab over and over again is because I am fascinated by her acting abilities. And this series has succeeded in giving us a delirious look at the fashion world and the effect it can have on women of a certain age...

PATRICIA STONE

Patsy is Eddie's best friend, by her own accord. She is a woman in her late forties, although she only admits being "39". She drinks whiskey for breakfast (usually at 2 pm), not being able to eat anything after her stomach "bypass". She had countless face-lifts and surgeries, hoping to recapture her good looks of yesteryear. Man-hungry, she's had countless one-night stands almost. And in the words of Saffy, "She's been a walking sperm bank most of her life".

The actress who plays her is called Joanna Lumley and is a distinguished stage actress who, among other things, has appeared in a few episodes of "The Avengers", the popular series from Britain in the 60's with Diana Rigg and Patrick Mcknea. She also had a small part as a Bond girl in the 1960's. Joanna is a very gifted actress and all her scenes with "Eddie" are pure magic. They're usually drunk and stoned out of their minnds, talking about anything and everything and bitching everyone in the process. Patsy resents Saffron very much, feeling she has taken her place in Eddie's heart in some way.

SAFFRON MONSOON

Saffron, or "Saffy" as her mother calls her is a young woman living with her mother (Edina) and who is, in a way, the sole responsible adult in this sitcom, acting as the straight man to Eddie and Patsy's antics. She can scream and yell as loud as her mother when she has to and tries her best to take care of her (as if it was her daughter) while Eddie verbally abuses her in any way possible while still loving her as best as she could.

The role is played by Julia Sawalha, a young actress who has made a few television series in England, Frontpage being one of them. She was also the voice of one of the main character in the animated movie Chicken Run in 2000. As you might have noticed already, she bears a striking resemblance to Helena Bonham-Carter the famous british movie actress who mostly plays in art-house movies but finally had a big hit in the remake of Planet of the Apes by Tim Burton in 2001.

BUBBLE

This character, played by Jane Horrocks, takes the expression "bird brain" to a whole new level. Bubble is so dumb she makes Dan Quayle look like a Nobel prize winner! She is the assistant of Edina, who owns a PR (public relations) company. Edina once referred to her as a little bookmark and implied that she employs Bubble only to make herself look better and certainly much smarter.

To see this actress play it dumb to the extreme is a great pleasure and, although only a recurring character seen sporadically, she lit up the screen every time she's on. Just watch her different dumbfounded expressions and you'll see just how extraordinary she is... There is an episode called ISO tank where, through Edina's dream, we see Bubble as a completely new character, very bright and efficient and the transformation is a blast.

MOTHER

This character, known only as mother or "gran" (her real name is never established in the series...), is the mother of Edina. The two of them have a tumultuous relationship, Edina always insulting her, calling her old woman, senile and every name in the book. The character is played by June Withfield, a distinguished stage and TV actress who has had a long career in Britain. She is seen sporadically and brings a nice touch to this already delightful ensemble with remarkable wit and style, holding her own against the rest of the cast.

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YES DARLING...

I just LOVE this show. There is something quite perverse and yet, immensely satisfying in seeing two aging women, bitching and moaning, being very rude and always completely drunk and stoned. You could say that it is not politically correct and yet, that is the whole point. It wants to entertain and also teach us something about ourselves in the process. There is a bit of Edina and Patsy in every one of us, women and men, gay or straight...

Jennifer Saunders said in an interview on 60 minutes a couple of years ago that she compacted all vices known to human kind into these two characters. And yet, with all their faults and rude behavior, they come out as being totally adorable. Jennifer also said that she gradually made them worse because she felt the public liked them too much. Well, we like those characters because they say and do things which we could never do in real life and yet, sometimes wish we could.

Haven't you ever thought about telling your boss EXACTLY what you think of him and to shove it somewhere? Or just be very rude to someone who has done you wrong or is just getting on your nerves? Throw a temper tantrum when you don't get what you want? Spend all your days drinking, smoking, gossiping and having a riot?

Maybe it's just me but when I watch that show, it gives me a break from this sad existence we all have to live through. Yes, I would love to do exactly what I want when I want to and yell at whomever I want without giving a damn... Of course, I can't do that but I certainly enjoy watching on TV someone who does!

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ANOTHER TWIST...

A new thing in the story of Ab Fab developed. The three seasons along with the movie The Last Shout were supposed to be the end of the saga. And Jennifer Saunders was getting ready to do a new series called Mirrorball with the same cast as different characters. They went so far as to shoot a pilot but it wasn't picked up by the network. Therefore, they decided to bring back those very popular characters and started to shoot new material for a fourth season.

The new shows have aired all through 2001 on the Comedy Central channel. But I don't have access to that station where I live. Therefore, it wasn't possible for me to view them. Little did I know that I would get to do just that very soon as a twist of fate intervened. I was asked to shoot a new movie in January 2002 based in Los Angeles. It was my first time in Hollywood and I must admit, it was quite exciting.

I arrived in Los Angeles around 6 pm, got some lunch and was in my hotel room an hour later. As I relaxed watching television, I started to flip the channels and suddenly, it dawned on me that I might be able to see a new Ab Fab episode. I knew the show had aired on Monday nights on Comedy Central and was hoping to see the reruns.

I was happy to find out that there was a special that night as two episodes would air back to back. "Lucky me" I thought to myself. The first show I saw was called Paralox where Patsy injects herself with paralox, a chemical poison she would inject herself to paralyze her face in order to avoid wrinkles, an obvious parody of Botox so popular as a cosmetic procedure these days. As the episode progressed, I wasn't really convinced that what I watched was funny. My being in such a lousy mood only altered my perception at that precise moment. The fact is that those episodes are still cherished by me to this day, now that I bought them on DVD two years later and also the box set from season 5 which so far has been the last season unfortunately although a few specials such as Gay and White Box have been released on DVD over the years.

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I have no idea is a new season (6) will ever see the light of day but if it does, I will be the first to buy it. I miss it like crazy and even if I have seen the cast in other roles (mostly Jennifer Saunders), I still wish they could reunite and give us several new seasons. That would be amazing but sadly, unless there is a miracle, I think the last chapter of this great series has been done and it was most likely put to rest for eternity. At least we still have all those DVDs to enjoy thank heavens!

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