Jennifer Saunders' role as Eddy on Ab Fab has overshadowed her long running skits with partner Dawn Saunders. And from what I can see after viewing French & Saunders: On the Rocks, it's with good reason, at least for this (and probably many) American viewers.
Although there are two other full episodes of the French & Saunders show on this disc that are included as "Extras", I'm going to describe them separately here as part of the disc, because they really do give you more bang for your buck in terms of buying this disc.
The main episode on here, On the Rocks, is a spoof of the nearly ten-year-old epic movie Titanic. I believe this show was done in 1999, but at this point, it sure is retro. But despite that, there really are some funny moments in this "making of" mockumentary that stars Saunders as Kate Winslett and Dawn French as Leonardo DiCaprio, as well as a handful of other cast & crew members. As if to draw in the Ab Fab crowd, Joanna "Patsy" Lumley is the host of this mockumentary—and she occasionally slips into some Patsy-esque behavior. As I said, some of the Titanic spoofs are quite funny, and actually, Dawn French steals the show as one of the prop/special effects people on the set. But, aside from the Titanic spoof, there are also interspersed skits of various characters and concepts the team has created. There's a woman growing an ear on her back for a giant (don't ask), a sketch featuring the Spice Girls (well, you know, most of them…because it was 1999, after the big departure), a gothic game show, Saunders as a teen who is going to get her ear pierced against the wishes of her mother, French. Overall, even though dated, the Titanic spoof was the funniest element of this 50 minute special, which lacked much of the charm and edge of Ab Fab (I really hate to compare the two unrelated genres, but how can one help it?). Maybe I didn't get some of the British humor, because the audience was laughing quite a bit, but I just wasn't overly impressed by this one.
Next we have the 40 minute 1988 Christmas Special. Wow is this one dated, yet, I could totally relate from a retro perspective. It's not all that Christmas. A black and white spoof of old Christmas classics was weak. The two occasionally came out for silly dance routines, from flapper dancing to acid house. Alison Moyet has a singing cameo—but in a comedy sketch involving French and Saunders as backup singers. There's a spoof on 80s hair products, The Last Temptation of Christ, and finally, of the group Bananarama (huge in England), with whom the comedy team even did a recording of the Beatles' "Help." This sketch was probably my favorite in this episode—because I actually HAVE the original recording from way back then, being an 80s child myself.
Finally, there is Celebrity Christmas Pudding, a more recent 40 minute special, and probably my favorite of the three episodes. The concept is that Saunders is house sitting for celebrities, and invites French over. The best moments are between the two women in the living room by the Christmas tree, but we are often taken away for some unrelated sketches, my favorite being when a mother tells her little son that she's divorcing his father. Still, in this episode, as in the others, there are some situations that fall flat, either being too dry or just in bad taste—and not funny bad taste.
If you're a fan of Saunders AND French, you'll probably want to pick this one up. Otherwise, you'll probably be disappointed. It becomes a real drag after a while, with only a glimmer of funny humor now and then.
Video AND Sound:
Well, each episode has a very distinct appearance and sound, so I've included the two categories together here. For starters, all three episodes are full frame.
On the Rocks suffers from images that are too dark, softness as a result of edge enhancement, and color saturation. The mono track features muffled bass, noisy highs and noticeable hiss.
1988 Christmas Special has rich color despite its age, but the edges are quite soft and there is noticeable pixelation. The mono track is a bit muddy.
Celebrity Christmas Pudding has some nice stereo sound. It is loud and clear, with major bass when applied. There are hints of pixelation and edge enhancement, but the colors are rich and the skin tones natural. This is the best transfer of the bunch.
The disc kicks right into commercials for BBC America on cable and Ab Fab: Series 5 on DVD. The main menu shows clips from the show. Only the main feature, On the Rocks, has menu selection, and each chapter is accompanied by a little window showing chapter-specific clips from the show. Now, remembering that the other two full episodes are considered the extras, the only other extras are trailers for some BBC shows, including The Office, Coupling, and Men Behaving Badly.
French & Saunders: On the Rocks is my first trip outside of the Ab Fab world, and I want to go home! French and Saunders are both funny women—and I'd say French actually outshines Saunders in many of their skits, but the humor is just not as strong as that of the Saunders solo project, and even without comparisons, is not as consistently funny. Fans of this duo should probably pick this up. Fans of Ab Fab…I'd highly suggest you avoid it.