In the 1990s, reruns of the daffy British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous—which followed the travails of two wealthy, aging party girls named Patsy and Edina—seemed to air almost continuously on Comedy Central. As a result, I learned what the words “bollocks” and “Lacroix” meant at a tender age and developed a deep affection for the antics of Patsy and Eddie, as well as Eddie’s uptight daughter Saffron and their coterie of absurd, bohemian, fashionista friends, especially Eddie’s daft assistant Bubble.
So I was excited to discover that Jennifer Saunders, who plays Eddie and also created the show, had written three new episodes, the first of which aired on Christmas Day in the U.K. (It will premiere on Jan. 8 in the U.S. on BBC America). It’s already on the Internet, and for a former super fan, it feels like a return to its original daffy, bitchy form.
The show has always engaged with pop culture, and the Christmas epsiode is no exception. There are obligatory jokes about the Kardashian Klan—looking at a tabloid, Patsy observes that the Kardashians seem to be multiplying: “That looks like a boob. In fact, it’s just another Kardashian”—and Bubble does a very funny reenactment of the Royal Wedding. I particularly enjoyed her pantomiming Pippa Middleton's famous posterior.
This is all midlly amusing. What's more resonant, and comedically successful, is the way the show deals with Patsy and Eddie's aging—which provides the main plot of the episode. (Fair warning: Spoilers ahead!)
The uptight Saffron, who has, improbably, just spent two years in prison, has come home with a “priz friend,” an enormous, terrifying woman. It turns out that she’s a former drug dealer, and that Patsy owes her tens of thousands of pounds. (We also find out that Patsy stores her drugs in her trademark platinum blond updo. Of course she does.) In order to get the money to pay her debts, Patsy must go and get her pension money. She’s never received any of it because she has claimed, possibly for the last 40+ years, that she’s 39 years old. (Watching Patsy discover her real age at the pension office is humbling and hilarious.)
Patsy and Eddie have always been beyond vain. They’ve both had copious plastic surgery—and Eddie says in this new episode that she’s gained so much weight that she’s hindered by her “huge recent chunkal obesity.” (She now downs a boatload of vitamins in the morning instead of taking a bong rip.) In an interview with New York, Jennifer Saunders says of Patsy and Eddie’s approaching golden years, “I like that they’re a bit older. It kind of makes sense because they can almost not give up trying, but they can do it a little less and not worry about it.”
I found the special delightful, but it does drag at points—and I don’t expect it will indoctrinate any more followers into the cult of AbFab. Still, for longtime devotees, it’s a treat to see Patsy and Eddie back in all their debauched, vicious glory.