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: Living in a Material World contains a good
selection of the pair's signature movie spoof skits. There's their
celebrated Baywatch spoof, with hilarious body doubles and great
use of slo-mo. Dawn French gives Pam Anderson the perfect skewering with
too-white teeth and tons of make-up.
The duo also get some jabs in at Madonna: Truth or Dare, both
playing the blond superstar. They act self-righteous and over-important,
wandering around in white bathrobes. In one hysterical throw-away moment,
Saunders pulls back a hotel curtain to reveal totally fake fan screaming
on the soundtrack. She waves meekly and shuts the curtain and the
screaming is gone.
Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, Batman and Braveheart
also get intricate send-ups, as do Bjork and the Cranberries, although
the musical tributes are a bit less effective as the jokey lyrics are a
bit tough to make out. Still, these skits are all awesomely funny.
They also tease the serious filmmaking styles of Ingmar Bergman
(specifically The Seventh Seal) and Federico Fellini (La
Strada and 8 1/2).
Two sets of running characters from French & Saunders:
The Ingenue Years make brief appearances here. The weird skit
where Saunders sits on the couch and French comes to visit her finds
French in full Pocahontas garb, trying to make the case that the Disney
character was based on her. ("I think I look much better when I'm drawn,
don't you think?") Also, the two schoolgirls are back, this time
trippin'. "Wow! Everything is like really, really weird!" French and
Saunders are comfortable in so many different characters, it puts most
sketch comedians to shame. These aren't just plain gags. The characters
are true and complex but they're ridiculous and funny at the same time.
It's easy to see where the amazing characters from Ab Fab come
from. This is great, great stuff.
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 Easter special from 2003 is an
excellent bonus. It's anamorphic widescreen and features another terrific
movie spoof, this time for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. First
off, the quality of the cinematography, costumes and make-up here far
exceed anything you could reasonably expect for a TV comedy. It just
looks amazing. Plus the humor lives up to the earlier F&S bits. A
great extra feature.
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.