Monday, September 10, 2012

DVD Review: Absolutely Fabulous: 20th Anniversary Specials

Absolutely Fabulous 20th Anniversary Specials (90 min)

Released by BBC Video on September 11th 2012. SRP $24.98 (DVD)
There is something I love about British television series. They never go away. British television series differ quite a bit from the US series in the sense that when a US series ends, it generally  never comes back as a regular series. British series are renowned for taking long breaks and coming back like there was no break at all. This includes Doctor Who, Only Fools and Horses, and of course Absolutely Fabulous. Back in 1996, it looked like Absolutely Fabulous was finished with The Last Shout. Jump forward to 2001 and suddenly there is a fourth series. Absolutely Fabulous was in our screens on and off until 2005 with a Comic Relief Special. The last special was White Box in 2004 and quite honestly, I was fine if it never returned again. For a series that was one of my all-time favourites, it pained me to so anti Ab Fab. To me, the series had run out of creativity. When I found out in December 2011 that the series was going to return on Christmas Day, I figured I would give it a shot but didn’t hold out high hopes for it. I’m glad I did. I watched the first episode and it was my rediscovery of a show I adored almost 20 years ago.

On September 11, BBC Video will release the most recent episodes of this wonderful British comedy series. The funny thing is that even after all of these years, there still isn’t anything like it. It still unique with characters that are charming and very memorable even if a few of them hate each other! This disc includes the 3 specials that made the “season” of episodes that aired in December of 2011 and into this year. These are called Identity, Job, and Olympics. Has it been really been 20 years since these wonderful characters came on the screen? Yes it was and this time they return to form in 3 episodes that is very classic Absolutely Fabulous. Now, I have to admit that I hate to use phrasing like that. Everyone knows that when an older series uses terminology with new episodes that go along the line of “these episodes return to the classic feel of INSERT SERIES NAME HERE” it means that the series lost its way and is trying to regain its former popularity. I have seen this applied to the last 3 specials of Only Fools and Horses or the recent upcoming series of Red Dwarf. Face it, when a series with a set format has been around for a long time, it easy for itself to lose its way. The writers try to freshen up the story ideas or the characters themselves. I felt that Absolutely Fabulous had done this but with that series, it is forgivable. Why? Simply because the whole series is one about comedy experimentation.
The storylines and characters in Absolutely Fabulous are all about them being in different situations while experimenting with how the story is told. Edina is all about the latest fads. Of course it opens it up for the series to date quicker but in a way that’s a great last joke by creator/writer Jennifer Saunders. It shows how silly Edina was 20 years later for investing in these fads which makes her even funnier.
I don’t remember how the previous special White Box even ended. I was done with this series at this point. I was finding it increasingly unfunny. I still am not sure if I had seen it all the way through to the end. I do not remember it. Perhaps when I finish writing this, I will take out the DVD a re-watch it. Yes, spoken like a true fan. I didn’t like it but still bought it. Anyway, my uncertainty and trepidation of these new specials disappeared instantly when I started to watch Identity. Identity starts off with Edina picking her daughter Saffy up from prison. Yes, prison! She has been in for two years providing fake passports to asylum seekers. Not only was Saffy in prison but she was actually the top inmate there. She got the respect and fear from all the other women prisoners. But is there more to this than it appears? Of course! It becomes even clearer when Saffy’s cellmate Baron shows up. Baron and Patsy have some history together and things get very uncomfortable in the household quickly.
From Identity, we move onto the second episode Job. This episode centers on Edina and Patsy to get the great French film star & singer Jeanne Durand to sing a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Edina really needs this for her business and she has a lot riding on this. Of course, there is one hitch in Edina’s plan, Jeanne Durand does not sing. It’s not that she sings off-key or fumbles the words, it’s more of when she opens her mouth to sing, no sound comes out of it.
The final episode was quite timely as it was called Olympics. Edina wants to have a meeting with Stella McCartney but McCartney is quite revolted by her. Edina even tries to make money out of renting her house out to the Hollywood influential during the Olympic Games. As usual, things go wrong.

I thought Olympics was the weakest of the 3 episodes. It was too shoe-horned into the surroundings of the actual Olympics. This is where I always felt Absolutely Fabulous was its weakest was when it was trying to be relevant to an event or even a celebrity. What does lift this episode is the return of Edina’s ex-husband Marshall along with Bo. They argue back and forth over whether Marshall has a sex addiction problem and it really reminded me how I missed these characters. Even though I thought that Olympics was weaker than the other two episodes, I still loved it.
The other two episodes were sublime. Identity is just hilarious. It has a surprising premise but the regular characters are not outlandish. They are not doing odd things; they are the same characters that I saw in the first 3 series of Absolutely Fabulous. In fact, they almost take the background roles to the bully Baron. My favourite of the 3 episodes has to be Job. It is probably so because of Lindsay Duncan taking the role of the prima donna Jeanne Durand. She is hilarious especially as she is such a serious character who takes herself so seriously. Of course, guest stars is something that Absolutely Fabulous is known for. During the three episodes we see Lulu, Emma Bunton, Lindsay Duncan, Kirsty Wark. Mark Kermode, La Roux, Stella McCartney, and Kelly Holmes. It’s even funnier when you think that poor Lulu had been a client of Edina for about 20 years.

The regulars are just as funny as always. I love them and Edina and Patsy haven’t changes at all. They are still funny and out of touch no matter how much they try to stay in touch. It’s funny as when the series began in 1992, they were still somewhat part of “the scene” but by the time we got to Series 4 in 2001 they had pretty much been passed by from the youth of the day. Now, they are pretty much just old and it feels like that in some way, they are OK with it. It’s also nice to see the cast just down to the classic line up of Edina, Patsy, Saffy, Mother, and Bubbles. It’s not cluttered with cast members that just muddied the series like Saffy’s husband John and some woman I cannot find the name of that worked at Edina’s agency in a couple of episodes of Series 4. Also we don’t see any more of Bubbles’ twin Katy Grin. There are some semi-regulars that show up in these specials that I always have a special fondness for such as Christopher Malcolm as Justin, Christopher Ryan, Mo Gaffney and Naoko Mori as Sarah. We even get the return of Llewella Gideon as Nurse that we first saw way back in the Series 2 episode Death.

For the completest such as myself, it is nice to see that the Sport Relief Special is included. This seven-minute mini-episode aired in the UK in March of this year. Sports Relief is a charity event from Comic Relief, in association with BBC Sport, which brings together the worlds of sport and entertainment to raise money to help vulnerable people in both the UK and the world's poorest countries. This special centers on Edina training for the Sports Relief but she has no interest in charity. She is really there to be in a meeting with Stella McCartney to discuss a shoot she has an idea for that she thinks Stella will like. As usual, things don’t go to plan and it ends with Emma Bunton beating up Edina. How we get to this is interesting and I will not spoil it! To coincide with this, there is a making of feature on the Behind the Scenes at Sports Relief.
I think this is the perfect amount of extras for a disc. I am not a huge fan of a ton of extras and what is nice is that it is not over done here. The extras are a compliment to the actual episodes on the disc. It’s the perfect amount for me. Plus, over the years BBC Video has done a great job of supplementing these discs with nice extras.

For Standard Definition, this looks fine. It is 16:9 anamorphic. The problem is that I want to see this in HD. I really wish there was a Blu Ray option for this release. It was shot and broadcast in the UK and the US in HD. Why couldn’t we have the option to get this in HD on Blu Ray? I am a fan of physical media and what is more frustrating is that you can stream these episodes through Amazon in HD. Of course the Amazon stream will be a lot more compressed than a Blu Ray but at least it is in HD. I notice that it is not available in Blu Ray in the UK  either and I am sure that is what’s stopping a Blu Ray release here.

Also, a problem that has been plaguing the Absolutely Fabulous DVD releases is the replacement theme music. Due to music rights, the US market does not have the rights to the Bob Dylan and Rick Danko song “This Wheel’s on Fire”. In the UK, blanket music agreements have been reached for series that used popular music to be commercially released so it is not a problem over there. That blanket agreement does not reach to over here where that would need to be re-negotiated with the copyright holder. It is an unfortunate situation but unavoidable. It is clear to get the rights to the song is cost prohibitive. I have faith in these BBC releases, if they could release it with the music I think they would. In the place of the actual theme music on these DVDs there is usually a piece of instrumental music over the credits but for these specials, the theme is a clubbier version of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurythmics. I am not sure what I think of it since the whole way the music is presented is so different than the theme. You will need to check it out yourself and make up your mind.
This disc also includes Ultra Violet so you can watch it from the cloudsphere……

This is a single DVD in a standard Amary case. It includes a sleeve. The cover features a shot of Edina and Patsy from the photo shoot done to publicize these specials. This DVD cover differs slightly from the UK set as the photo taken is from the same photo shoot but the UK version has all four cast members on the cover. I believe that is the first time any of these releases had more than Edina and Patsy on it.
UK DVD Cover
I am really happy that, to me, Absolutely Fabulous got their act together. In 2005, I was done with them. In 2012 I cannot wait for their return. It really is like seeing an old friend again. If you did not watch it when it was on the air this year, do yourself a big favour and treat yourself to this DVD to see some of the best episodes of Absolutely Fabulous since 1996.
Disc Breakdown:

1 Disc: 3 episodes (Identity, Job, Olympics) + Ab Fab Does Sports Relief, Behind the Scenes at Sports Relief.

This week: In the next couple of days I will be posting my tribute to actor Geoffrey Hughes. I wanted to post this review first.

Have a great week!

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Michael Fett said...

I found Identity to be pretty funny myself as well as Job. The Olympics about the only thing I enjoyed out of the whole episode was Bubble's actions. The only thing missing for me from Identity was it was Patsy's and Edina's one chance to really rip into Saffy hard for all her years of being a good girl, but they don't. Job is just hilarious. Makes me wonder how the film they talk about will go.

Dave G said...

I am very glad I have never had to suffer the indignity of hearing the replacement theme music. I never have been a fan of replacement music (or just cutting scenes where un-cleared music occurs) but replacing the theme is just so very wrong.

Anyhow, every once in a while I am surprised that I have no Absolutely Fabulous on dvd. Somewhere packed away in a box I have the first couple (3?) series on video, but I have never felt any urgency to get the dvd releases. While I do enjoy it, it has never been one of my favorites. Perhaps someday when there is a great price I might finally take the plunge.

As for the recent 3 specials reviewed here, perhaps the best thing I can say about them is that they are pretty much on par with my memories of the earlier stuff. Still, not having watched any other Absolutely Fabulous for several years, it was nice seeing it again. So - how long until the next batch? Only time will tell.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

“The Lacroix, darling, the Lacroix!” I love this show, and I’m glad they finally put the series on DVD. I would love to see these women in another 20 years. My co-worker from Dish doesn’t understand why I like this show. We have a long weekend coming up, and decided I want her to check this series out. I added this show to my Blockbuster @home DVD queue; the delivery is fast, and I can return it to the store when I’m done and get a new one in the mail. I may end up buying this series, but since my pocketbook doesn’t agree with me I will settle for this method.