It has once again become apparent that Hollywood has run out of ideas. According to Variety, the Fox network is planning to remake one of the most successful British comedies of all time, Absolutely Fabulous.
For those of you unfamiliar with the original show, AbFab (as it is known to its fans) is the story of two school friends, Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley), who have aged less than gracefully. No matter how out of touch they are with their own age, and what is truly cool, they have more money than brains, and cling desperately to trying to be “in” with people far younger than themselves. All of this is done with the disapproving eye of Edina’s very prudish daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha).
The series was born out of a single sketch on the French & Saunders show, and ended up running for five seasons in England for a total of 37 episodes spread over 13 years. When it was imported to America, it had an instant cult following for its crass and crude humor, and became a gigantic hit with the gay community. (there were several hints over the five seasons that Patsy may not have always been a woman, but it was always kept very vague)
At the height of its popularity, Roseanne Barr put the wheels into motion to do an American version, and even went so far as to have Edina and Patsy appear in one episode of her hit series. This import of the series was eventually killed off as Roseanne finally realized the humor was not going to import to a broader American audience all that easily.
Flash forward to 2008, and now Fox thinks they can pull it off. Normally I would immediately write this off as a sure fire disaster, but sadly it is being spearheaded by Mitch Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I think AD is one of the most brilliant American sitcoms ever crafted, and if anyone can do dysfunctional characters, it is Mr. Hurwitz. Then there is the second caveat keeping this from complete disaster, and that is the involvement of Edina herself, Jennifer Saunders, as one of the producers.
Even with those great talents behind the scenes, I have a hard time believing they will be able to bring this show to the USA and keep it’s charms intact. Take the characters chain smoking for instance. In the English version, several episodes revolved around the fact Patsy fell asleep in the kitchen with a lit cigarette, and the room was burned to a cinder, causing major renovations. There was another episode that focused heavily on the fact that Patsy tried to quit smoking and it seemed nicotine had seeped out of her into the multiple patches she was wearing. Certainly this will be dropped for the USA version, but that is unfortunate because their smoking is very much a part of who they are. These characters WOULD smoke, no matter what the atmosphere in society is towards it.
Their binge drinking may survive as Karen (Megan Mullally) on Will & Grace was a heavy drinker (and fairly obvious she was an amalgamation of the two women from AbFab). Their drug use will probably need to be toned down, as will some of Patsy’s sexual escapades.
In short, I think Roseanne had it right when she dropped the project all those years ago. This, like so much British humor, will be difficult to import to America. While Edina & Patsy are broadly drawn archetypes, they are played with loving subtlety by the actresses who inhabited them. No matter how vile they were, you couldn’t help but love them because you knew they did what they did out of stupidity. American actors have a tendency to not be able to convey this sort of situation without slamming through it in a ham fisted manner. Also, our writers don’t usually grasp such things like that either.
With Mr. Hurwitz and Ms. Saunders involved, I hold out some hope this won’t be as large a disaster as some other British imports have been, but I won’t hold my breath for it being good either. Once again I am left to wonder why we must import so many of our ideas and concepts for television and movies. The mind truly boggles.