At its best, Absolutely Fabulous is a brilliant piss-take of the glamour industry, a hilarious riff on the conspicuous consumption and celebrity worship that have so defined the last decade or so. But the danger of a show like Absolutely Fabulous, which relies so heavily on referential humor and insidery jokes about fashion designers and B-list British celebs, is inadvertently celebrating the very subject it supposedly ridicules. “Identity,” the first of three half-hour specials marking AbFab’s 20th anniversary, was a sharp, topical spoof of British culture at a time of royal weddings and riots. In contrast, “Job” is an awfully blunt instrument of satire.
The episode starts off with a bang. Patsy and Edina stumble out the front door of Edina’s impressive West London home, and scramble into the back of a chauffeured luxury sedan. The car peels away, drives perhaps 50 feet, and abruptly stops. Patsy and Edina have reached their destination, a plush spa where they’ve come for a day of indulgence—the joke, of course, is that their life is rarely anything but indulgent. While Patsy and Eddie mindlessly thumb through copies of Tattler and Hello!, a spa beautician with a thick Jamaican voices her disdain for her spoiled clientele. “Lazy, lazy, lazy woman and her scrawny friend, needing time out from their privileged lives,” she says. “So stressed from having two children and a big house.”
Yes, the monologue is a little stagey—just who is she talking to anyway?—but the critique is effective enough that it doesn’t much matter. Patsy and Edina are caricatures, but they’re hardly alien. Flip the station to Bravo or E!—or maybe just stand in line at the closest Whole Foods—and within a few minutes you’re likely to hear some well-heeled person talking about how “stressed” he or she is about redecorating their loft.
The scene also nicely sets up the theme of the episode, which is work--or the lack thereof. After their day at the spa, Patsy heads back to her office, which is conveniently located in Eddie’s house. She looks at a few layouts, caps it off with a line of coke, unloads all of her work on an intern, and delivers a stirring lecture about her magazine's rarified readership. “This magazine is the Argos Catalog of the fabulous diamond-studded whores of the oligarchs,” she says. “Darling, they knew nothing of the bread lines. They don’t to carbs, they do caviar.” It’s a terrific monologue, sort of what Aaron Sorkin and Candace Bushnell would sound like if they had a baby who grew up to be a screenwriter.
But after the one-two opening punch, the episode takes a turn. Saffron and Edina get into one of their signature fights, which ends with Saffron calling her mother “a sad, useless failure.” These two are constantly at each others’ throats, but Saffron’s outburst for once doesn’t feel justified, which makes it seem unnecessarily cruel. AbFab has a bit of a mean streak, especially when it comes to Eddie, and when things get too nasty it’s can be a buzzkill. It’s fun to laugh at Eddie, but not to kick her while she’s down.
In order to win the approval of her daughter, Edina stages a concert for Jeanne Durand, an aging Catherine Deneuve-esque French actress, at Royal Albert Hall. It’s an ingenious plan, but the only problem is that Jeanne’s a mess. She’s basically a French version of Patsy who slams into walls and lives on cigarettes and espresso, and, even worse, her singing voice is barely audible. Now Eddie’s plan has backfired, and she’s headed for public humiliation on a spectacular scale.
Eddie calls on two celebrity friends, Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton and Lulu, to act as vocal coaches. They both try, and fail, to solve the problem. Neither singer is a great comedic performer, and the scene drags on interminably: Jeanne keeps opening her mouth, nothing comes out, and what started out as a mildly amusing gag quickly grows tedious. The only pay-off seems to be the chance to see how Baby Spice is looking these days (not bad!). It’s at this point you have to wonder whether AbFab is really puncturing celebrity culture, or just making the problem worse.
In the end, the performance is a smash hit, but only because Bubble provides some uncredited vocal support. It’s nice seeing Little Voice star Jane Horrocks get to use her pipes on the show, but it’s not quite enough to redeem all the wanton stargazing.