Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ab Fab: Kate O'Mara Is Fabulous on an International Scale!

The one thing about writing on this blog is the ability to go back to series I haven’t seen in a long time. We all do that, right? At one time these series are very dear to us and then, like with friends, we just lose touch. I used to watch Absolutely Fabulous all the time. Religiously and basically ritualistically. Of course, with most things, I got to it fairly late in the day. I don’t think I started to really watch it until after The Last Shout aired which is par for the course for me. I remember accidentally calling a friend, who was deeply into the program, when Comedy Central was broadcasting the final episode. That didn’t go to well for me.

As with current custom, I got into Absolutely Fabulous after it was all over (for the first time) and all of the hype died down. It wasn’t because of the numerous friends who are smarter than me telling me to watch it was what got me into it. I think I just turned on Comedy Central one Saturday afternoon and watched it for about an hour and a half. I loved it. As it happened, the first episode I turned to happened to be the first episode of the series, Fashion. With each subsequent episode, I would love it more. It became funnier and riskier. I would make it a Saturday afternoon ritual to watch it before I went out for the night. Back in the mid-1990s, I would go out all the time for parties and other interesting endeavors. Those Saturday nights were a lot different to my Saturday nights now where I sit in a darkened room writing about British television.
To get myself ready for a night out (which would generally be all night), I would watch the 2 hours of Absolutely Fabulous that Comedy Central would show us every week. It was fun and would put me in the mood for a good time out. At the time, when the series was over, we all thought that was it. Absolutely Fabulous ended on a high which seemed appropriate for them.

I would have never guessed in a million years that Absolutely Fabulous would return in 2001. The last series of specials ended in 2012. Of course I will say that the first three series are superior. That being said, when it came back in 2001, for the most part I have still greatly enjoy it. As I finish up writing about the holidays, I think I was fortunate to pick Absolutely Fabulous at the right time because I can pick a Christmas episode but even more exciting is that I can pick an episode that has a rare New Year’s episode. We don’t get one of those very often so it is nice to be able to check it out, especially after so many years since I have seen it.
Happy New Year TX: 06/04/95

“Am I correct in thinking it's when the year goes up one?”
It really goes to show how long it has been since I have seen this episode. I somehow thought that this episode and the following episode Sex shared an episode. I know the plot for both episodes but I had them combined into one episode in my head. Even though the transmission of the episode was in April, this episode is solely focused on New Year’s Eve. Eddie and Patsy are getting ready to go to one of the most exclusive and hottest night clubs around. It is so exclusive, it is held in an underground car park in Romsey. I am not sure if this is a joke or not in the sense that this sort of thing was or was not happening back in the mid-1990s. I have no doubt that true raves were happening in secret all the time but this idea that this is now very common in a lot of different professions of having something in a unique location and then tweeting a bunch of people of where the location will be is ahead of its time.

Saffy is a little annoyed because once again Eddie will not be home for the New Year; out somewhere getting out of her mind. Saffy has invited everyone to the house for a get-together. In fact, this is one of the episode where the entire cast is together including Oliver who is Justin’s boyfriend but thinking about it, it’s not since Bo is not in it.
The opening scene in the kitchen with Eddie making her appearance is hilarious but every time I see it, I wonder if she will live or seriously hurt herself. Eddie goes down the stairs from the main level down to the kitchen on roller blades. It is so dangerous but hilarious. I give her credit, I would never do anything like that. Ever. Of course Eddie thinks the rollerblades were a Christmas gift from Patsy:

Eddie: Fabulous, aren't they? Pats gave them to me for Christmas.
Saffy: I gave them to you for Christmas.
Patsy: I didn't say they were from me, I just gave them to you.

Another great moment in the opening of the episode is when Marshall calls in from Hollywood. We find him in a hot tub with some airhead bimbo named Cherysh (with a Y).

“How come when she put the phone to her ear, all I could hear was the ocean?”
I didn’t realise this until I watched the episode this time is that Cherysh is played by Rebecca Font. I had just seen her in an episode of Midsomer Murders Let Us Pray and she was a regular on The Thick of It opposite Peter Capaldi playing Nicola Murray. She is simply fantastic in it. It’s a great series.

Cherysh: You have a really good sense of humour.
Marshall: And you have really great tits.

Cherysh: Thank you.

I love that exchange because it is so crass.
One other person who was not invited was Bubbles. She is a little confused on how this New Year thing works but she is also here to deliver a message. This is where we find out the Patsy has an older sister named Jackie. Jackie appears to be very influential in all things.

“She is there behind the rich and powerful, beside the rich and powerful, under the rich and powerful.”
Jackie is played by Kate O’Mara which is one of the greatest pieces of casting ever. When the doorbell rings and Patsy answers it to find Jackie the audience gasps at seeing Kate. I love it and those two play-off each other well. There is something not quite right with Jackie. She is a little out of it. Patsy wants to bring Jackie along, Eddie doesn’t want Jackie to come along and Jackie just wants to stay in.

Finally, we realise that Jackie is throwing up her food, I suppose not too difficult since she was spending time eating potpourri instead of crisps. Anything to stay thin! At the end, Patsy finds out what Jackie’s scheme is for visiting. It’s a refuge for animals. Patsy assumes it’s for bad ass animals like cats on crack but sadly it’s just animals.
Jackie: Pats I'm 72.
Patsy: Oh, my God, what does that make me, then?

It’s kind of interesting since at the end Patsy gives Jackie a needle and tells here to use it and go out with a bang. Perhaps some kind of foreboding……
When I used to watch these and collect the series, I couldn’t have been content to get them on VHS like most people. I had to be special. My collection had to be “superior” so I originally bought the first 3 series and The Last Shout on Laserdisc. That’s right, Laserdisc. I figured this was the best quality I could ever get them in. I also figured this would be the last time I would ever need to buy this series. I was set. I talked myself into this scenario, oh, so many times with just about every TV series that I have re-bought 2-3 times. What could ever surpass laserdisc? With all the times I have bought BBC titles over the years again and again, you think they would allow one of the “B”s in the BBC to stand for Bakun!

My Laserdiscs!
I actually held off on buying the DVDs for a long time because I knew that the R1 DVD set did not include the theme as broadcast but an instrumental thing. My “simple” plan was that I was going to import the R2 discs as I often did for everything else. I assumed the correct theme music was not on those discs either. The elaborate plan would call for me to rip all of the DVDs and digitally record the episodes from the Laserdiscs so I could edit them together with the theme music and then author new DVDs. If you think this is a lot of work, then you don’t know me and my own DVD creations to make sure things are broadcast accurate as possible. The good news was that when my R2 DVDs arrived, they had the proper music to them. That actually was a really nice surprise! Well, that’s one ridiculous project avoided. As I am writing this, I am streaming the series in the background on Hulu and these do not have the proper theme music to them. It really ruins it for me.
Cold Turkey TX: 24/12/03

It’s only been 8 years since the events of Happy New Year. It seems like decades. So much has happened in the series in this period of time. One of them is that Saffy got married and had a kid. Even though I still enjoyed the series, I thought the cast grew too big and strange things were happening such as how & why they made the kitchen so big, etc. I didn’t dislike the series in any stretch of the imagination, it just wasn’t as much fun as it had been. I can easily describe what happens in Series 1-4. In fact up to Gay. Series 5 is a blank to me with the exception of Cold Turkey. The last set of specials are pretty good. I deplore White Box. That being said, I think this episode is a wonderful and to be honest, one that I think could have easily ended the series.
Patsy and Eddie always go away for Christmas. This year, Eddie has decided to stay at home so she can be with her granddaughter Lola. This infuriates Patsy but we finally find out why this has always been the case. We get a look into the psyche of Patsy. She has been constantly rejected by her mother. We get a flashback and what is awesome about this is that we get Patsy’s mother in this played once again by the great Eleanor Bron. We last saw Eleanor in Magazine and Birth. Her mother hated Christmas to the point of keeping all the curtains drawn so Christmas couldn’t get into the house!

As much as Patsy is angry with Eddie for wanting to spend Christmas with her family (to the point of head-butting Eddie), something sinister is afoot. There is someone performing voodoo on Patsy and she is taken to the hospital. This is the first time since Happy New Year we see Patsy’s sister Jackie. Jackie put together Patsy’s Will for her and she is ready for Patsy to sign it. Another look into why Patsy is so bitter. Jackie has always ruined everything for Patsy. Jackie took away the only person Patsy loved.
Jackie: He was mine! Marcello Agnelli.
Patsy: He was the only man I ever loved.
Jackie: We were meant to be married.
Patsy: You took him!

Jackie: How could I take him? He was a grown man!
Patsy: You told him I was dead!
Jackie: I thought you were dead. How many people survive a heroin overdose on that scale? (QUIETLY) I must've got the purity wrong.

This time, Jackie intends to get the purity correct and put an end to Patsy’s life. The next morning, Eddie and Saffy go to the hospital to visit Patsy where a nurse finds them:
“Miss Stone passed away last night”

This is an amazing moment. As this is said, everything is quiet. The studio audience is slightly gasped and this is a real emotional moment. Nobody knows for sure what is going on. I had seen the episode before but when I watched it for this article, a great flood of emotion came to me at that moment. It’s actually quite powerful.
They walk into the room and there is a body in the bed covered up. The camera shot switches to Patsy coming out of the bathroom and asks if they are here to take her home. We find out that Jackie is the one who overdosed. I think this scene could have played out better to maximize the surprise. Perhaps clichĂ© but I would have preferred to have seen Eddie and Saffy come into the room, upset by the news they just received. Eddie moves over to the body at the bed to pull down the covers to look at her friend only to find it is Jackie in the bed instead dead. See what I did there? I think the studio audience would have just gone crazy. We don’t see Patsy until after this moment. I think that would have been amazing. Look at me, telling Jennifer Saunders how to write Ab Fab! Where is that William Shakespeare! I have a thing or two I want to tell him too!

As I mentioned earlier, I think Cold Turkey would have been a fantastic ending to the series. It is clear that much of what had clouded Patsy revolved around here family and very much Jackie. This was lifted and now Patsy can’t stop wishing everybody a Merry Christmas. At the hospital right before they leave, Patsy looks at Saffy and whispers with a smile on her face to her, “Merry Christmas”. It is a beautiful moment. This simple scene which takes up less than 5 seconds is probably my favourite moment from Absolutely Fabulous. It is sweet and feels like a fresh start for Patsy.
Patsy is truly different after this for the rest of the episode. She is easily accepted in from everyone else in the family. Hell, she is even willing to eat food! If they had never made another episode of Absolutely Fabulous again after that, it would have been a triumphant ending. Unfortunately, it was followed up by White Box but luckily redeemed with a slight reboot of the 20th anniversary specials.

If I were to choose between the two episodes which were better, of course I would choose Happy New Year. The writing of the series, to me, is superior and much more sharply formed. Some of the jokes make you think a little bit more and they are not just laid out there to laugh. Even if it is a series about two drug-laden boozed out women, there is a great deal of sophistication to the writing. Cold Turkey is different in that regard. It is still immensely enjoyable but the laughs seem to be a little cheaper.
There is this whole side bar about Bo & Marshall trying to sell a product called Staylene which is a weight loss product from God. As Bo and Marshall explain the concept, we cut to an “infomercial” bit that tells us what Staylene is with Bo and Marshall hawking it. It is mildly funny but actually comes across as cheap filler humour that only works OK. Other may enjoy that but it just screamed of filler. That’s just a small issue in an otherwise great episode.

I thought Cold Turkey would make a great last episode but the series goes on. I am sure we will see Eddie and Patsy ride again! There is still that movie they want to make…….eventually!
A couple of notes:
I just wanted to write about the passing of Bernard Kay who died on December 29th at age 86. He was a tremendous actor and have seen him in many things. Obviously I first noticed him in his outings on Doctor Who where he played Tyler in The Daleks’ Invasion of Earth, Saladin in The Crusades, Inspector Crossland in The Faceless Ones, and Cadlwell in Colony in Space. I have seen him in other things such as The Avengers, Z Cars, Out of the Unknown, Survivors, Space: 1999, Foyle’s War and much more. He brought a lot of warmth and dimension to these characters that always seemed effortless. I can truly say I have enjoyed everything I have seen him in. A wonderful person who will be missed.

Finally, there is a great radio documentary on the classic series One Foot in the Grave. Producer of the documentary Richard Latto sent me a note to make me aware of it and I wanted to pass it along if you haven’t heard it. It looks back at the series and includes contribution from many of the cast and crew. You can find the documentary here. It is available to listen to until January 25th. Richard has done other radio documentaries on other series such as Doctor Who and Hancock and I hope he does more that reflects this genre of television. Let’s support him!
Next week: I say farewell to Jeremy Lloyd who wrote some of my favourite TV series. I celebrate his amazing career by looking at 3 episodes from 3 great series: Are You Being Served? Oh, What a Tangled Web, ‘Allo ‘Allo! Pilot and episode of Come Back Mrs. Noah.

Have a great week!
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"Merry Christmas!"


annabelt said...

I love Patsy: "When did you last eat?" "1973!" :)

Greg said...

Ha! These are amazing characters!