THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Before they created the great BBC series Absolutely Fabulous, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French starred in their own skit comedy series called French & Saunders, a sort of female Kids in the Hall. BBC has been releasing the series in single disc compilations which may not hew to the original structure of the show but give a good sense of the zaniness regardless.
French & Saunders: The Ingenue Years offers a ripe collection of skits ranging from the short and silly dance sequences (which find the bumbling duo attempting signature moves of various eras) to the ambitious "That's Hollywood!" which features hilarious spoofs of classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (disturbing how much the portly Dawn French looks like Elizabeth Taylor) and Cabaret as well as Doris Day. The film spoof is a staple of sketch comedy and French & Saunders are experts at it. In the British comedy tradition in addition to being funny they're also great actors, so there's no Saturday Night Live style giggling at their own jokes and reading cue cards. They're utterly convincing whether they're playing Liza Minelli or 14 year-old girls.
They also have a touch of absurdist humor in their routine. The disc kicks off with a recurring scenario that finds Saunders sitting on a couch and French visiting her. This set-up, as basic as a high school acting exercise, is given ridiculous dimensions with the non-sequitur dialog and unhurried delivery. At one moment Dawn French is blasting open the door with dynamite because Jennifer Saunders is too lazy to answer it, the next they're worried about living on a deserted island with Oliver Reed for two years being forced to eat twigs, fish and monkey's droppings. "And I refuse to eat fish!" screams Dawn French.
Two sets of ongoing characters really make The Ingenue Years more than just a collection of random skits. First are the two fat, horny men the women play (under a ton of padding) who uncontrollably launch into orgasmic thrusts at the sight of a woman. The other is the super-annoying pair of schoolgirls who bombard their teacher with idiotic questions and constantly yell "Miss! Miss!" These are perfect examples of the humor the duo perfected. French & Saunders is really, really funny and, even though it doesn't offer the lengthy character arcs of the amazing Ab Fab (and anything without Joanna Lumley is the worse for it), it's still worthwhile viewing.
The full screen video is fine, if unremarkable. The picture is a bit soft and the colors aren't vibrant, but it's acceptable. The source material doesn't seem to have been the sharpest either.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is also fine, if nothing special. Dialog is clear but not necessarily full of depth.
A 40 minute French & Saunders Christmas special is included. This is a terrific addition to the disc and provides plenty more laughs.
Another fine set of skits from this classic comedy duo. With four discs on the market, however, it's starting to look more and more like a boxed set would make more sense. (NOTE: A box set compiling the releases to date is available here.) Still, this disc in particular would make a perfect stocking stuffer for fans of Brit-com.