By Alonso Duralde
Originally published on Advocate.com December 31 2003 12:00 AM ET
Great news for keepers of the Ab Fab faith: The Oxygen cable network will begin running the fifth season of the ever-outrageous British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous on Friday, January 2. The even better news is that, based on a look at the first two episodes, the show is actually funny again. Can it really be a full decade since part-time publicist and full-time wanna-be Edina Monsoon (played by Jennifer Saunders) washed up on American shores with her gorgon fashionista best pal Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley)? Like all great British comedy imports, from Peter Sellers to Monty Python to The Office, Ab Fab expanded our colonial notions about acceptable humor and garnered a fervent Stateside following. (The show also inspired countless attempts to recreate its viciously funny and thoroughly politically incorrect style, to little avail.) But while we remember the show’s highs—and there are many of them—Ab Fab has never been a model of consistency. The last few episodes of the third season started to get a bit wheezy, and it felt just right when writer-creator Saunders wrote what seemed like a definite end to the show in that season’s climax. Then came The Last Shout, a made-for-TV movie that had its bright spots but ultimately confirmed that perhaps the concept had been taken as far as it could go. After writing and shooting the pilot Mirrorball for the same cast—Saunders, Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield—Saunders decided to abandon the new characters in favor of bringing everyone back for a fourth season of Ab Fab. This was a double pity, in that Mirrorball was hilariously funny and held great promise and the new Ab Fab episodes weren’t and didn’t. The less said about the Absolutely Fabulous in New York special the better; suffice it to say that it came off as the biggest franchise-killer since Batman and Robin. But like leg warmers and Isaac Mizrahi’s design career, Absolutely Fabulous appears to be back from the dead and bigger than ever. Season five finds Edina still a celebrity publicist: Lulu has left her, but she’s still got Bubble (Horrocks) dithering around the place. Her new top-shelf client is Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton, who actually shows great flair and humor playing herself. Patsy, meanwhile, has left the magazine world behind as a retailer and celebrity stylist, but she still spends most of the day chain-smoking, slugging down champagne, and looking for a quick shag. Rounding out the dysfunctional family fun is Saffy (Sawalha), who returns from aid work abroad with a big surprise. From book clubs to lap pools, Ab Fab remains cutting-edge in its evisceration of the fads of the rich and famous, and this time the show’s trademark sparkling wit is as effervescent as ever. Whether it’s from changing directors (veteran Bob Spier hasn’t come back this time) or Saunders getting her groove back is unknown, but who cares? One of the great Big Gay Following shows is back and at its best, and if that’s not a great sign for 2004, I don’t know what is.