Absolutely Fabulous has had five intermittent seasons and two specials on the BBC over the years (1992 to present). This new DVD release, Absolutely Fabulous - White Box, is the second and most recent special, a forty-four minute one-off episode from 2004 that gets the gang back together for a few more hurrahs. It's always a dicey proposition when a popular show keeps extending its shelf life in this way, but in the case of Ab Fab, it usually comes off well, probably because the show's writer Jennifer Saunders is always the one at the typewriter. She knows her characters backwards and forwards and is always gung-ho when it comes to going the distance for a laugh.
With the series having earned a legion of fans over the years, most people taking White Box for a spin will have a pretty good idea what they are going to get. Namely, lots of rude humor that appropriately lances any festering sentiment before it can take hold and become gangrenous. Jennifer Saunders and the awesome Joanna Lumley reprise their roles as Edina and Patsy, aging fashionista alcoholics who stumble through life with only their own selfish interests in mind. In White Box, Edina backs off from accompanying her longsuffering daughter, Saffie (Julia Sawalha), to Africa for the girl's wedding, instead using her absence as an opportunity to redo the kitchen. Saffie makes her swear not to, but when has that ever stopped Edina?
Edina hires her whacked-out friend Bettina (Miranda Richardson) to handle the remodel, but Bettina is all about minimalism, and she reduces the kitchen to a "white box." In other words, it's empty. When Saffie returns, she insists that Edina fix what she has undone, sending her mother out in search of her perfect kitchen. Along the way, she goes to a snooty German department store run by Nathan Lane and enters regression therapy with Laurie Metcalf. Yes, it's stunt casting, but it's smartly done. Lane, Richardson, and Metcalf get the politically incorrect, exaggerated humor and see right through the over-inflated art world that is being parodied. Lane and Metcalf are particularly funny, bringing a loose, improvisational vibe to the set.
If you like Ab Fab, this is a pretty solid episode and should whet your appetite for all things Patsy and Edina. Rest assured, most of the cast makes a return appearance, including Jane Horrocks, June Whitfield, and Mo Gaffney. There are several out-and-out shock moments and a fairly decent story to hang them on. Not necessarily up there with the classic early episodes, but certainly not an embarrassing showing. In other words, the Ab Fab crew avoid being like an aging rock band that inspire more shudders than applause when they haul their sorry old butts up on stage.
For those new to Ab Fab, I suppose that White Box will serve as a fairly okay introduction. You may not fully understand whom everyone is (Gaffney and Christopher Ryan breeze in and out so fast, you'll have no idea what you just saw), but you'll likely get where the show is coming from. In any case, if your interest is piqued by what you see, definitely track down the full seasons of this mold-breaking British sitcom.
Being a fairly recent television production, Absolutely Fabulous - White Box was shot in widescreen and comes to DVD in a format enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The picture quality is fairly good, with no problems leaping out at me. It seems like a pretty straightforward transfer from TV to disc.
A Dolby stereo soundtrack with English Closed Captioning.
There are three bonus features on White Box, but unfortunately two of them are recycled from the Absolutely Fabulous Complete Collection set that collected the first three seasons. How to be Absolutely Fabulous (28 minutes) is an old promo special from 1995 hosted by Jennifer Saunders that is essentially a clip show in the guise of a "from the ground up" look at the series. Modern Mother and Daughter (8 minutes) is the original sketch from the French & Saunders show that served as the foundation of Absolutely Fabulous.
The new extra is Ab Fab Moments (a.k.a. A Life (1 hour, 17 minutes). I use the term "new" loosely. Really, it's another clip show that was made back in 1998 but as far as I can tell has not been on DVD. This time it is framed with new footage with Edina and her mother (Whitfield) shooting a documentary of Edina's life. Mom is working in a charity shop, and in between these so-so new segments, we get a reflection on the history of Edina.
I guess the thinking behind these extras is that if someone gets this disc and is not a fan of Ab Fab already, these will suck them in further. The French & Saunders skit is essential, so if you don't have the big set, if you only have the early seasons individually, it's good to have a new opportunity to get it. The clip collections, however, seem a little pointless when you can just go back and watch the shows themselves.
A long overdue import, Absolutely Fabulous - White Box is a welcome return of everyone's favorite British libertines. Once again playing Patsy and Edna, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders gather the troops for an extended romp full of raunchy humor and ridiculous situations. Not the show's best, and with mainly recycled bonus features that end up running longer than the episode itself, some may find this disc a little lacking; even so, it's funnier than most of what passes for comedy on TV these days and if nothing else will send you scurrying back to relive the show's heyday. Recommended.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.