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Cheers, Sweeties

June 11, 1995|BETH KLEID

"Absolutely Fabulous," the British smash hit comedy that was once seen only in America by fans fabulous enough to have bootlegged videos, has taken a Concorde ride to cult status in the states.

"AbFab," the pet name given it by devotees, has been on cable's Comedy Central since 1994, its dozen episodes repeated over and over. (The BBC debuted the series in 1992.) The show fell smack into the hip lexicon as fast as Edina and Patsy, the series' permanently 39-year-old dipsomaniacal gal pals, spill out of their chauffeured Jaguar and into the London gutter after having a bit too much Stoli.

But sweetie, sweetie darling, don't ditch your latest Lacroix (that's La- QUA ) outerwear yet. Comedy Central this week begins showing six new episodes about the heroines who refuse to leave behind their '60s lifestyles. As all self-indulgent things must come to an end, however, these are the last of the "AbFabs." (You can begin chanting here if you wish. . . nyoing.)

An American version of "Absolutely Fabulous" is in the works even as trendoids on this side of the Atlantic are still speaking in Pats and Eddyisms and studying every facet of the characters' looks for Halloween costumes. Roseanne has purchased the rights to an American "AbFab" series; Carrie Fisher is reported to be the front-runner as Eddy and Barbara Carrera has the latest edge as Patsy.

The British bad girls have made it into the New Yorker's selective "Talk of the Town" column. "60 Minutes" recently aired a segment on the show. And its two over-the-top stars, Jennifer Saunders (who created it, writes it and stars as Edina, a Buddhist-chanting publicist who never goes into her isolation tank without the cellphone) and former Avenger Joanna Lumley (Patsy, a magazine fashion director who often can't find her office) were almost too much for David Letterman to handle.

Just what is it about the show that has U.S. fans salivating for their next "AbFab" fix? Why are two chain-smoking, chain-drinking, chain-snorting, chain-shopping chums so universally lovable?

"There's a bit of wish fulfillment about it," says the show's producer, Jon Plowman. "There's a bit of them doing stuff that the rest of us would like to do. The things they do feel like kind of the completely hedonistic experience that would be quite fun."

Hedonistic is a good description. Eddy is the twice-divorced PR queen with the paunch: "People, places, concepts--I PR them. I make the fabulous fabulous, I make the crap credible." She indulges in everything from champagne for breakfast to high colonics ("That'll get it out of me by hook or by crook.") Lacroix is her favorite designer ("Does Lacroix do kitchens?") and she's fond of clashing couture ensembles that are one size too small.

The glam Patsy does not deny herself the pleasures in life either. Sex, drugs, Chanel suits. She's all Ivana Trump with her extra-high beehive hair and extra-tightly lifted face. Rail-thin Pats satisfies her urges for oral gratification by alternating cigarettes with vodka and catty remarks.

Quips, fashion spoofs and addictions aside, Plowman says "AbFab" has widespread appeal because it's really a simple relationship show.

In addition to being about the power of female friendship, he says, it's about Eddy's relationship with her strait-laced, levelheaded daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha). In this twisted mother-daughter union, the daughter takes on the role of the mother. This season, when Saffy learns of mum's plans to hire a male prostitute, she takes care of getting the protection.

Plowman says the show is about much more than debauchery and non-PC attitudes. "What Jennifer is good at is, she's a very good observer. Lately the series has worked because she has noticed that women have best friends who are involved in a kind of marriage, and there is a generation of people like Saffy who are in reaction against the excesses of their parents.

"We're not saying that these two women are role models," Plowman says. "We're saying they're horrendous people that you wouldn't want to spend any time with."

The last of the "AbFab" episodes will be "slightly darker," the producer says. For the ultimate in dark moments, brace yourselves, sweeties: Pats and Eddy split up in the final episode. "Jennifer wanted to show that, in a way, Patsy and Edina are two sides of the same person," Plowman says. "When you split them up, they can't function."

The show ended production after three seasons because Saunders is said to have wanted to go out on a high note. But how will "AbFabbers" live without Pats and Eddy? Well, there is the American version to look forward to. Saunders has worked with Roseanne to develop the show, and Plowman says the "AbFab" crew has confidence in Roseanne.

For those who will only settle for the originals, Saunders is planning a movie version starring herself and Lumley. Break out that Bolli (the champagne, sweetie, champagne).

The new "Absolutely Fabulous" shows air Mondays at 8 p.m. on Comedy Central, which on Sunday offers a 2-7 p.m. "Queen for a Day: Jennifer Saunders" fest, including her other sketch-comedy shows and "How to Be Absolutely Fabulous" with outtakes.

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