By Mike Hughes
Gannett News Service
There is a point when TV characters become more than just a passing amusement.
They become pieces of the pop-culture landscape, instant reference points. That's the case for Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, of BBC's Absolutely Fabulous.
Their fifth season - that's six episodes - is now available on DVD (BBC Worldwide; $34.98). By British standards, five seasons represents staying power.
"When people quit after two or three (seasons), I suppose it's easier to forget them," Jennifer Saunders, the series' creator and star, says.
Now Ab Fab, a comedy's that's both broad and smart, has a big following.
Edina (Saunders) is a publicist, more interested in talking about herself. Patsy (Joanna Lumley) is her glamorous friend, who likes clubs and parties.
They consume many things - alcohol, drugs, clothes, cosmetics - and earn very little. The only responsible person is Saffy (Julia Sawalha), Edina's daughter - who began this season pregnant.
Clearly, Edina represents something about modern society. Viewers can take their pick.
She might represent the helplessness in an urban world.
"There's not much she can do," Saunders says. "Or not much she believes she can do, anyway."
Or she might show the self-centered tilt of the Me Millennium.
"She's so really, terribly shallow," Saunders says. "There's very little she thinks about except herself."
American networks have tried to create similar characters, with no success. Roseanne Barr bought the rights to do an American Ab Fab, but that sputtered; other shows followed the general idea.
"CBS kind of tried with a show called High Society, which we thought bore a terribly close resemblance," producer Jon Plowman says. "But various lawyers told us it didn't."
All of those face a culture barrier: American networks feel that TV characters need to be likable; the British disagree.
"A show that made a lot of people laugh was Steptoe and Son, which was about not-very-pleasant people," Saunders says.
In the United States that was softened to become Sanford and Son. The British Till Death Us Do Part was softened into All in the Family. Then American comedies tried to make everyone seem nice - until the Seinfeld phenomenon.
"The characters that we are the most fond of are the ones that aren't that likable," Saunders says.
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