Back in February I picked up a cheap video boxset of the first four series of Absolutely Fabulous… and last week I was lulled into purchasing the “Absolutely Everything” DVD boxset in a pre-Xmas sale. It seemed a bit too soon to be watching the same actual episodes again, so I just popped the first four discs in for the extras… roughly fifteen minutes of bloopers for each series and a totally pointless “photo gallery”, where the pictures are all squeezed into a frame that looks like a camera lens at the centre of the screen, so they’re too small and circular to be of any use! Although I did enjoy the lively and insightful commentaries from writer/star Jennifer Saunders and producer Jon Plowman on the fourth series disc, the most exciting extra has to be the pilot for Mirrorball, a sitcom Saunders created in 2000, after the third (supposedly final) series of AbFab and “Last Shout” special.
For those who don’t know, Mirrorball was directed by Saunders’s husband Adrian Edmondson, and reunited the main cast members of her previous hit show, playing new roles. The show centred around ‘Vivienne Krell’ (Saunders) and ‘Jackie Riviera’ (Joanna Lumley), two has-been hoofers of questionable talent who live in neighbouring flats, relying on each other for encouragement before a big audition and solace/celebration afterwards. Tagging along for the ride is Vivienne’s slightly pretentious, thesp-y sister ‘Freda’ (Julia Sawalha)… although I don’t think the familial connection was made very explicit in the pilot. Meanwhile, Jane Horrocks plays ‘Yitta Hilberstam’, a rather bizarre and callous actress/waitress, who Wikipedia insists was Icelandic, but I could’ve sworn was supposed to be German (if only because she was singing a German song as her audition piece)… June Whitfield plays ‘Dora Vermouth, a former vaudeville actress who spends most of her time singing tipsily beside the local pub’s piano… and Harriet Thorpe plays ‘Cat Rogers’, a perpetual, multi-tasking understudy.
Pilots are notoriously clunky by their nature, but I think Saunders does a good job of introducing all the characters here. I don’t really like the way the story ends on such a broad slapstick-y note, but there were a lot of good verbal gags before that, and a lot of laugh-out-loud moments… even if some of the humour seems quite cliquey and aimed solely at theatrical insiders. In the show’s favour, Saunders and Lumley already have great chemistry together, and they share some great scenes here (the way Jackie aggressively orders Vivienne to “Sparkle!” on stage is hilarious)… and it was nice to see Sawalha playing a less dowdy character for once, even if she was a bit of a pain. I guess the show’s biggest failing overall is that it constantly reminds you of AbFab, but never quite satisfies you in the same way as its predecessor. It’s kinda like dating someone who looks a bit like the person you’ve just broken up with… they’re bound to be a disappointment, not because there’s anything particularly wrong with them as an individual, but simply because they aren’t the same person you were in love with.
Anyhoo, there are supposed to be some new AbFab specials coming before the end of the year, so I’d better get cracking on the other discs!