'Ab Fab' returns to Comedy Central

Monday, November 5, 2001

LONDON -- In the interim, Patsy has been promoted and Edina has gone even more bonkers. And as was true five years ago, Edina's daughter, Saffy, remains the sanest one of all.

You guessed it, sweetie: "Absolutely Fabulous," one of the defining British comedy shows of the last decade, is back.

Comedy Central launches six new episodes starting at 8 p.m. Nov. 12 with Jennifer Saunders once again playing the frizzy-haired, eternally panicky Edina and Joanna Lumley returning as Patsy, Edina's sleek, chic and seriously loopy best friend.

Expect lots of smoking and drinking and sharing notes on sex alongside a fearless comic assault on the facts of female aging. When these women are in full, take-no-prisoners flow, there's simply no such thing as a sacred cow.

Does that mean that sin and decadence, perhaps, are in?

"At the 'Ab Fab' level," says Lumley, "Patsy and Edina's brand of sin will always be in, because they exist on a different level -- they're both as real and as unreal as possible."

This series, says Saunders, who also writes the show, is slightly less about drinking and cigarettes "because that's all a bit passe."

'About a life panic'

The program now, she believes, "is more about a life panic -- about staying on top, keeping yourself together."

That was the order of the day when a reporter traveled to west London's BBC Television Center late one summer afternoon to watch the women tape "Menopause," the last of the six episodes. Fending off the advancing years fueled the comedy that particular show, presenting the leads as you've never seen them -- and as the performers, some decades away from being geriatric, have never seen themselves.

"I kept saying to the makeup artist, 'We can do this with acting,'" says Saunders, chuckling at the memory of the scene that catapults the women into an old age, the most debilitating kind.

Neither star had time to talk to the press during the filming, especially with a live taping to do later the same evening. But both agreed to subsequent interviews with The Associated Press to discuss a phenomenon that first began in England in 1992.

Was a return to "Ab Fab" inevitable?

"Probably," says Saunders, who, at 43, is 12 years younger than Lumley. "I hadn't done it for five years, and it just seemed there was some scope for it and that the world had changed -- that there were enough other things to write about again."

Those include Patsy's largely inexplicable rise to editorship of her magazine. ("She probably just changed the signs on the office doors," laughs Lumley.)

PR maven Edina, in turn, risks the ruin of both her new production company and, far worse, of her own face, the latter courtesy of some Botox injections gone wrong.

"If Edina is anything in this series, she's a desperate woman," says Jon Plowman, the BBC's Head of Comedy Entertainment. "Desperate for fame, desperate for celebrity and for being around celebrity."

"It's a funny word," muses Saunders. "People used to be well-known or famous; now, they're just a celebrity. ...

"It's all very odd."

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