Twenty years ago, "Absolutely Fabulous" made its debut on American TV. Its two outré main characters, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, were the perfect antidote to three decades of "me generation" madness: the self-absorption of the seventies, the rampant materialism of the eighties and the political correctness of the nineties. "Absolutely Fabulous," with his cast of misfits, took this cultural stew and made one big boozy party out of it.
Edina is a middle-aged, twice-divorced compulsive shopper and slacker mom whose daughter Saffron is the true mature adult in a role-reversed relationship that mocks parenting culture from every angle. Edina's best friend and sidekick Patsy, a magazine editor, is so excessively (but hilariously) dysfunctional that she makes Edina seem saint-like. Nothing is spared their barbed humor, including, of course, sex: "I've spent a fortune in my life trying to get in touch with my sexual being," Edina laments to Patsy in a prior episode. "Do you remember I spent a week celebrating my private parts - do you remember, darling?"
Today BBC America has brought this deliciously deranged duo back to our screens in three half-hour commemorative "Absolutely Fabulous" specials. Edina and Patsy are no longer middle-aged -- they're pushing fifty or sixty -- but their issues are the same (though super-sized) as the cult of youth and the digital world bear down on their aging selves.
"I want blog and flog," Edina mindlessly shouts at her wacky assistant Bubble in the new special, before zipping off in her extreme jean getup to retrieve do-gooder Saffron, who's been imprisoned for falsifying papers to help asylum seekers. Saffron is barely back home when Edina falls prey to familiar obsessive preoccupations: "I'm at a time in my life, darling," Edina says, "when every fat cell I ever lost or gained has come back for the fat-cell reunion of the year." Edina later laments: "I grieve for menopause. I don't have any hormones, darling. I'm just held together with gels, pills and suppositories."
"Absolutely Fabulous" is the saucy British precursor to our "Sex and the City." But while "Sex and the City's" four famous New Yorkers were all glitz and glam, "Absolutely Fabulous" brought us two women, albeit older, who were a parody of all things glitz and glam: outrageous and outraged wannabes bumbling through life's tribulations without a penthouse apartment (but with just as much booze and bonvivantism).
What's so fabulous about "Absolutely Fabulous" now -- twenty years later and heading into Post 50 turf -- is that it's a raucous reprieve from the sometimes sanctimonious "fabulous at fifty" culture that tyrannizes so many women. It's also a tonic against the perfect madness described in Judith Warner's book of the same name, which detailed the anxious, perfection-seeking, multi-tasking, over-driving parenting zeitgeist that took root in the nineties and persists today.
We can thank the British for many things, the English language notwithstanding. In the TV department, they brought us the best in high- and low-brow culture, from the gems on Masterpiece theatre to "The Office" to "American Idol" (originally "Pop Idol"). And as long as they retain their ironic wit and trademark sarcasm, "Absolutely Fabulous" will continue to be just that. Take a look at some clips from prior episodes of "Absolutely Fabulous" in our slideshow.