Less a tribute to London’s Summer Games than a symptom of them, Absolutely Fabulous: Olympics (BBC America, Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET) represents the last and limpest of three new Ab Fab specials. The sainted French and Saunders sitcom is marking its 20th birthday—a notable celebration for a series that took as its central theme the constitutional inability of its protagonists to age gracefully.
Back in the day, Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) were plumed birds of the Swinging ‘60s, and when we met them, they were flopping and flouncing onwards as if the party had never stopped. Edina, by profession a PR exec and in her fashion sense a chronic self-victimizer, was raising, to her horror, a mousy and sober daughter named Saffron (Julia Sawalha). Patsy had the drug tolerance of Keith Richards and the moral rectitude of Brian Jones. The makeup department deserved a special BAFTA for absurdism in hairdressing for its work disarranging Patsy’s bouffant at certain moments, as when she lurched into consciousness amid the charred remains of Eddy’s kitchen with the cigarette that had caused the blaze still lit between her downturned lips. The passing years have only seasoned their immaturity.
The best bit in the Olympics special is its opener: Edina tries and fails to secure special access or indeed any access to Stella McCartney’s Mayfair boutique, ultimately wailing the designer’s first name in a travesty of Stanley Kowalski. Edina trundles home, where her dunderheaded assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks) is preparing for the games by scooting about on a child’s tricycle in a white spandex suit with a white racing helmet that tapers to a tail, looking like an enormously undignified spermatozoa.
It is revealed that actor Michael Douglas has arranged to rent the house while in London for the games. Douglas is here the perfect name-drop, with his emeritus status as an A-lister and his old cravings for drink and sex offering fodder for many (labored) jokes. Edina and Patsy each rub their paws together in greedy anticipation of the social-climbing opportunities Douglas’ visit will offer, and they plan to go in for nips and tucks in the months before his visit. Edina: “I shall be wearing my buttocks as a headdress.”
But soon Bubble burbles that the games begin this week. Douglas is on his way from Heathrow. Incredulous Saffron wonders how her mother could not have known that the Olympics are starting: “How can you have missed it?” Edina counters: “Well, it’s been everywhere for five bloody years. … Excuse me if I miss it actually starting.” It is telling that the line, which grouses by way of boasting, earns the most effusive studio audience applause of any in the episode. Sitting on your couch in America, you begin to understand that the episode, attempting much strictly local charm, amounts to a gift-shop trinket. Gentle cameo appearances by McCartney and 2004 gold-medal winner Kelly Holmes deepen the impression.
The program might have been edited down, with no substantial loss of mirth, to a series of subverbal utterances expressing impatience and disgust and disgusted impatience, generally directed at Saffron. At one point, Edina silences Saffy with a wet hairball cack, while Patsy assaults her longtime antagonist with a noise that makes her sound like a cobra about to strike, though without the serpent’s sense of compassion. No one does louche quite like Lumley—her commanding grip on the neck of a bottle of bubbly, her throaty chortles of lusty reminiscence. The final moment of this mild special is a dream sequence that sets our heroines trotting through the new Olympic Stadium. Patsy, with her decades of substance abuse, has some difficulties with the task, but she gets where she’s going and hoists the torch and lights her cigarette off it. We’re going to need to rework the Olympic motto in honor of her gold-medal dissipation: stronger, faster, higher—way higher.
Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the London Olympics.