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Friday, 31 August, 2001, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Absolutely spot on
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley
Edina and Patsy return after five fairly sober years
By the BBC's William Gallagher

All we want to know is whether the revived Absolutely Fabulous is as good as the original series which ended over five years ago.

But in the words of The Simpsons: "The short answer is yes with a but, the long answer is no with an if."

It is insanely difficult to bring back a sitcom, partly because it is madly difficult to create them in the first place.

Joanna Lumley
Patsy is still in pursuit of eternal youth
Jennifer Saunders's original Absolutely Fabulous squarely hit every one of the requirements of the very rigid sitcom format.

It had a small main cast that worked in only a few small main settings such as Edina's kitchen but with characters and an overall situation that allowed endless different stories that could be set up and resolved in half an hour.

Every successful sitcom has these ingredients, but unfortunately so does every unsuccessful one.

It is hard to separate out the elements to say what made Absolutely Fabulous work but the most obvious one was its characters.

Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) were permanently drunk embodiments of the PR and fashion industries, written acutely by Saunders and played sharply by both she and Lumley.

They hit the flavour of their times, but while that made them rise above average sitcom, it also tied them to their days and made Absolutely Fabulous only really work for a limited run.

Saunders plainly thought so too and ended it when it was at its peak - only to decide five years later to bring it back.

Risky

It has been done many times before but the failures are legion - stand up James Shelley - and the successes are one: Fawlty Towers had many years between its two runs.

Recapturing past glory is so difficult that the temptation must have been to bring Absolutely Fabulous back with a kind of safe bang.

Safe because it could rely on all the old jokes and a bang because it must have been tempting to create a huge opening episode to prove there was life in the idea.

Michael Greco, who plays Beppe in EastEnders with Joanna Lumley
Can Patsy win round Michael Greco with her taut features?
But, admirably, Saunders has gone for an almost understated return.

This opening episode is not the greatest slice of British television comedy but it is very good and what it does more than anything else is link to the old show while progressing it too.

We are five years on and Edina's kitchen has been overhauled into the 21st Century and so have the characters.

Edina is now a TV producer, of sorts, with her "fingers in many pies, darling" while Patsy has barely moved.

In this opener, she experiments with a new skin immobiliser, "Parralox", to give her the taut look of youth.

It is a prop-based start, then, with the story revolving around that Parralox but the whole situation is just a way to ease us into the new series and set up plots for the rest of the run.

You get a sense that the big laughs and - crucial to this show - the pathos will come later but this start is funny and confident.

It is also nothing short of brilliant in how it yanks Edina and Patsy up to date while simultaneously making us feel that the previous episode was last week instead of half a decade ago.

The first episode of the new Absolutely Fabulous is on at 2130 on Friday 31 August, BBC One.

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 ON THIS STORY
TV critic Alkarim Jivani
"They are back twice as large as life and almost as hideous"
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