I became an instant fan of the BBC sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous, in the early 90s when visiting my sister Wendy in Melbourne, Australia. We were at a bar called The Exchange when the Season One Episode “Iso Tank” was played on the monitors. I was hooked the moment Edina (the genius show creator Jennifer Saunders) offered beer to her uptight daughter Saffie (Julia Sawalha) and her friend with the line, “Sisters Grimm can I tempt ya?”
Three minutes in and I knew this nihilistic, oh-so-wrong show would forever hold a place in my cold, dark heart. Edina and her partner-in-crime, Patsy (Joanna Lumley) led unapologetically materialistic, narcissistic, hard-drinking, drug-fueled, opinion-saturated lives, and I found them so relatable. Every time Edina would rant about why they had to pay taxes or when Patsy would complain about Saffie’s very existence, I sopped up every bit of their counterculture ways like a biscuit to gravy. It would be a while before it was broadcast in the U.S., but when it was, I loved every scabrous moment. Goodbye Brady Bunch and Hello Magazine! Fans of the show will get this, and if you’re not, then thanks to Hulu, you can watch it all right now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
During its initial run, I memorized every line, every side eye, and every ridiculous outfit. My friend Danielle and I would talk about a doorknob in New York City that we like all because of this classic show. It had such a hold on me that I knew exactly who I wanted to dress up as for Halloween 1995. It would turn out to be the one and only time I’ve ever impersonated a woman, and frankly, I ended up looking like Howard Stern. It also hurt a lot. Seriously, drag queens deserve the Medal Of Honor for the wig headaches and the sore feet alone.
While working as a Treatment Educator at AIDS Project Los Angeles during the dark days of the epidemic, I dressed as Edina while my friends and co-workers, Marty and Judie, went as Patsy and Bubble respectively. Marty entered the studio on the back of a motorcycle with four cigarettes in his mouth. I stood at the end of the ramp and lit all of them when he landed. Marty deservedly won the contest. Afterwards, Marty and I terrorized West Hollywood by standing in the streets with our bottles of champagne as we thumbed for rides or entered stores quoting such lines as, “You only work in a shop, you know. You can drop the attitude!”
As the years passed and the show finished its run, the series retained its hold on me. I still say, “Cheers, thanks a lot” whenever I’m particularly grateful and I’ll revisit episodes just to watch Patsy try to eat food or watch Edina fall down her kitchen stairs one more time. I missed those Ab Fab conversations with friends.
And then in November 2019, a little miracle dropped into my lap. Three U.K. Huns—Cooper, Leo and Peter—launched their brilliant podcast, Wheels On Fire, a deep dive into every episode from the first three seasons (so far) of my favorite show. From all the way across the pond came this highly engaging, ridiculously specific look at every nook and cranny the series had to offer. With Cooper hailing as the Superfan, Peter as a casual viewer, and Leo somewhere in-between, there’s something for everyone here. It’s like getting to have a little kiki with my gay besties every time a new episode drops.
Since they were barely fetuses being chucked down the runway when the show first aired, it’s always a laugh when they don’t understand a reference or the historical context. Clearly their followers’ comments got to them after a while as later episodes feature plenty of Google searches by Peter, the Irish one with the pantie-melting voice. Still, they clearly love the show and relate so much of it back to their own lives. I often had trouble with the very British references, and it soothed me to know they felt the same. Thanks to technology, you can watch the series with subtitles and get educated. I love watching each Ab Fab episode before popping some champagne alongside the hosts and listening to their pod. Just when I thought society had succumbed to a total dumbing down, it’s with a great sigh of relief to know I can hang with these engaging gents and hate everything and everybody, with a laugh, of course.
Here’s a link to the podcast. You’re welcome, sweetie darlings.
By Glenn Gaylord, Senior Film Critic