From the first time that I -- at the urging of several fannishly enthusiastic, Guinness-drinking buddies -- watched back-to-back episodes on Comedy Central, the BBC's outrageous and bawdy Britcom series Absolutely Fabulous has been one of those addictive pleasures that, like fish-and-chips or bangers-and-mash or Graham Norton, I find impossible to not enjoy even as I suspect it isn't good for me.
There's nothing genteel and upright in the misadventures of fashion nightmare Edina Monsoon (fearless Jennifer Saunders) and bleary-eyed, chain-smoking Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley, a fave since The New Avengers). This unbreakable pair of aging scenesters try hard just to stand upright while maintaining their long-gone youthful days of boozing, pill-popping, and shagging. They're not proper, they're not refined, but, bloody hell, they sure are funny. Add Edina's understandably tense daughter Saffron (awesome Julia Sawalha) and dotty mum (June Whitfield), and you have a skilled. pitch perfect ensemble earning their place in British comedy history. Specifically, that's No. 17 on both the British Film Institute's 2000 list of 100 Greatest British Television Programmes and the 2004 Britain's Best Sitcom poll.
Still, no matter how often I'd catch episodes on Comedy Central or BBC America, it's been difficult to follow the show through all five seasons. Never mind finding all the rumored specials and one-offs and early comedy sketches where the characters first developed. What's an Ab Fab fan to do?
Well, sweetie darlings, that ciggies and whiskey smell coming from our DVD shelves this week may be guiding us to a new nine-disc set from Warner Bros. and BBC Video. Absolutely Fabulous - Absolutely Everything is a complete Ab Fab anthology delivering the series' entire run -- all 36 episodes, all five seasons -- from its humble beginnings to its cocky, self-assured years as an international hit. Plus, we get all three specials, including Gay, a.k.a. the famous Absolutely Fabulous in New York Christmas special.
Then we get four hours of bonus features such as genuinely hilarious outtakes, flubs, and crack-ups from each season; two sample episodes of the original sketch comedy show French & Saunders, with the show's genesis in a sketch featuring Jennifer Saunders as Edina and her comedy partner Dawn French as Saffy (remember how The Simpsons started on The Tracey Ullman Show?); gorgeous young Joanna Lumley, in footage from the 1960s, discussing her life as a Carnaby Street model (and you can tell where Patsy's nicotine addiction came from); photo galleries for every season; and the feature-length behind-the-scenes retrospectives How to Be Absolutely Fabulous and Absolutely Fabulous: A Life.
On top of all that we get funny and informative commentary tracks from Saunders and producer Jon Plowman on the Season Four episodes. Topics up for lively, often ribald discussion include the difficulties involved with bringing the series back after a gap of several years.
The episodes look fine. The first three seasons (1992-1995) present full-screen, and the pre-digital era reveals itself with rather soft (but perfectly serviceable) image quality. The rest (2001-2003) evolve up to sharper, more vivid 1.85:1 enhanced widescreen. Audio is clean and clear Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0.
Listing at $129.98, it's a pricey set. (Warner Bros.' online shop discounts it to $99.95.) But if you're a fan, you do get your money's worth. In a word, it's all ... well, fabulous.
That goes for the clever packaging too, by the way. The set comes bound like a photo album, covered in silver quilted fabric, and adorned with an embossed metal series logo on the front. Inside, the leopard print bookmark gives it that certain je-ne-sais-quoi, darlings.