Jennifer Saunders / AB Fab Research Paper

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Jennifer Saunders / AB Fab

Jennifer Saunders

Great Britain had an alternative comedy revolution during the 1980s that carried over into the 1990s and while "sitcoms" weren't necessarily viewed by the general public as being glamorous, the genre inspired some of the most memorable British television ever. Shows like The Office, Father Ted, and Blackadder are just a few of the magical programs of British television of this time period. Absolutely Fabulous was just one of these types of talismanic programs -- anarchic and irreverent, and it put women in the role of comedienne. Absolutely Fabulous began in 1992 and lasted until 1995 and then started up again in 2001, running until 2005 (including the Comic Relief special); however, the cult following this show, which was born out of a Dawn French and Jennifer Saunder's sketch comedy act still continues today. There are so many reasons for the cult following, but some of the most basic reasons have to do with the sheer hilarity of seeing Edina and Patsy behaving so irresponsibly. We live in a world where women are expected to act a certain way -- especially mothers and career women in their middle ages, and twenty plus years ago, audiences were craving characters who were more human and less feminine. Absolutely Fabulous brought the over-the-top characters of Patsy and Edina into homes where they were embraced for their sheer immaturity.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Paper on Jennifer Saunders / AB Fab Jennifer Saunders Assignment

Saunders played Edina Monsoon, a character that was believed to be based on legendary public relations guru Lynn Franks (Hall 2006). Franks saw the resemblance apparently, but didn't see Edina as her fictional alter ego -- however, it was said that she had divulged her love for the show. Edina and her best friend "fash mag slag," played by Joanna Lumley, were extremely proud hedonists, "indulging in an orgy of drugs and drink and, in Patsy's case, men, swinging enthusiastically as they had in their 1960s heyday" (2006). They were rich and famous -- celebrities even -- and they could act however they wanted to because of this -- brash, rude, irreverent and sassy. They showed this behavior particularly toward Edina's mother (June Whitfield) and her annoyingly boring daughter Saffy (Julia Sawalha) whom Edina constantly tells off: "I don't want a moustachioed virgin of a daughter, now for heaven's sake do something about it!" (2006). The show was utterly and proudly un-PC and though the writing was especially witty, there were also some very great moments of physical comedy that makes one think about the great comedienne Lucille Ball. Many of the episodes delight in Edina and/or Patsy "falling out of taxis, over hedges, and down stairs while drunk, high, or hung over" (Lavery 2009).

From the outside, Absolutely Fabulous appeared to be like most of the traditional BBC sitcoms of the day. They made fun of the shallowness and superficiality of the fashion and PR industries. Jennifer Saunders created Ab Fab and before doing so had had a career as one half of the BBC comedy sketch show French and Saunders. Dawn French, Saunder's comedy partner, had a career that was more prolific than Saunders. She worked in the theatre and had already created two successful BBC comedy series -- Murder…Most Horrid and The Vicar of Dibley, and had a successful fashion line on top of everything. Saunders, on the other had, hadn't done much outside of her partnership with French -- until 1992 when she had decided to create Ab Fab.

Jennifer Saunders used the platform of Ab Fab for creating two brashly grotesque characters in Edina and Patsy, characters who were not afraid of attacking types of repressive and conservative thinking (Stott 2004). Grotesque is a good word to use when describing Edina and Patsy, a pair of promiscuous and drunken women whose empty-headed views regarding fashion and beauty seem to not only embody them but also make up their physical bodies. But while they may be labeled by feminist thinkers as grotesque because of their carnivalesque portrayals of modern women, the grotesque must not be thought of as a word that is being used derogatorily. Grotesque can be used as the antithesis to the feminine -- or the ideal feminine -- which has been the word to embody so many characters that we see on television. Edina and Patsy are the likes of which British and American audiences had never seen before.

Jennifer Saunders had something to say about the way that certain women cherish inappropriate and superficial ideas about their world and themselves in that world. Stott (2004) notes, however, that women as a whole are not being chastised by Saunders in her creations, rather "these individuals are singled out for the vacuity of their values and their elevation of ideals that ask women to conform to unattainable standards of perfection." Carlson (1991) also notes that Saunders' very candid discussion of sex and the body is part of a broader movement of women writers who "are creating characters who realize a much fuller and more troublesome range of bodily possibilities." Saunders' creation of Ab Fab came about around the same time during the 1990s that other comediennes were coming out with material that dealt with their identities as women, "and the social, physical, and sexual expectations placed upon them" (1991).

The performances of Lumley and Saunders in Ab Fab were both idiosyncratic and culturally determined. The performances drew adoration and repulsion at the same time. The women represented cultural violations and were examples of how the intensity of "pleasure or revulsion can be understood in relation to the social and psychological processes of repression involved in the maintenance of bodily decorum and the pleasurable release of bodily desires" (Arthurs 1999). What was interesting about the representations of these two women created by Saunders is the enviable commitment that they have to one another. Of course, this is the nature of the sitcom genre: the group of characters are the narrative focus as opposed to the individual. It is from the interaction of these characters that comedy develops (Rosemary et al., 2006).

Saunders created the complex and interesting female characters that television was craving yet without losing meaning. Saunders was ahead of her times, in a way, as today our existence has become so commercialized and there are more goods in circulation, which means there are many more goods to purchase. More and more we are trying to satisfy our needs and desires by consuming both goods and services (Svendsen 2006). Saunders understood the desire and the temptation as women to own all of these goods that can make us prettier, better, richer and -- hopefully -- happier. "Do you like them or no? I like them if they're Lacroix" (Absolutely Fabulous, Svendsen 2006). We have become a consumption culture and this culture is directly targeted to women. Saunders' creation of the Ab Fab girls made audiences laugh at them -- and at themselves, but its reason for going down in history and for making it a cult favorite is that it speaks to us on a higher level.

They placed their characters in opposition to the traditional representations of women in British television comedy -- such as the sexual accessories of The Benny Hill Show, the domesticated, subservient wife of The Good Life and the nag of Faulty Towers. Saunders' and French's very presence…was a timely intrusion into a realm of comedy previously the exclusive domain of male performers, from Monty Python to the double acts of the 1970s: Morecombe and Wise and Little and Large (Foster 2010)

The autonomy that women were getting was confirmed by the creation of Absolutely Fabulous as well as by the pairing of Lumley and Saunders. The writing and the acting emphasized -- always with hysterically funny results -- the female experience. "Many of the scenes worked to reinforce the centrality of women's talk and to parody the position and representations of women in the media" (Foster 2010). When it comes to writing, Saunders definitely must be given credit with raising the profile of female comediennes on television (2010) as well as drawing attention to women's capabilities behind the scenes as Saunders was the show runner in the final season of the series.

The appeal for Ab Fab is in its cathartic novelty of Patsy and Edina's frantic search for self-gratification, violation of social codes, and ability to provide a respite from the cliches of 'womanliness' that pervade the very medium through which Ab Fab became so popular (Waddell 2006). The two characters are unrestricted by a sense of duty, personal anxiety or fear of reprisal. The characters of Patty and Edina created so boldly by Saunders undermines the socially constructed notions of the 'feminine,' ferociously challenging the customs governing the ways that women are expected to appear and behave.

Waddell (2006) notes that in the 1990s she gave a paper on females images of the grotesque at a university seminar accompanied by various Ab Fab clips and showed a scene where Patsy and Edina crawl around… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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