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The Ab Fab Diary: On the Remake Set With Edina and Patsy

Kristen Johnston and Kathryn Hahn film "Absolutely Fabulous"

QUEERTY BEHIND THE SCENES — Have you ever heard a straight man say the words “absolutely fabulous” in a hetero monotone? This was our introduction to the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City where the rent-a-cop peeked in my car, took one look at me and my friend George in his Gaultier glasses, and flatly asked, “Absolutely Fabulous?” Try saying “absolutely fabulous” with no emotion. It is laughable. George and I repeated it in our best straight man voices sporadically throughout the evening — an evening spent remaking the hit 1990s comedy Absolutely Fabulous

I pushed past the civilian peasant audience members, because in true AbFab style, I was on the VIP list. I waited in line while the people ahead of me, playwright/director David Mamet and his wife, actress Rebecca Pidgeon, were checked in, clearly there to support his daughter, Zosia. When it was my turn, I gave them my ID and the woman, Deputy Lopez, scanned the list for our names. After a good five minutes she handed me back my ID and said that our names were not on the list—also in true AbFab style. I insisted that Deputy Lopez call the production office where my VIP status was confirmed.

Alas, there is nothing fabulous about the American version of Absolutely Fabulous.

The set was lit and ready when we were seated. We faced the living room, the walls turquoise and lime green. A patio with chaise lounges and a city backdrop abutted the living room. The over-the-top minimalist chicness of the BBC AbFab set was lost to an underwhelming comfy-contemporary blah-ness. A sign on the door to the apartment read “PH 2”: Penthouse 2. A high-rise apartment in LA. I guess they’re in Century City.

I left my seat in the audience, ripped off my guest pass and made a face like I really belonged so I could wander around Stage 28. The Married With Children logo was painted on a door. Chills. Television greats like David Faustino and Buck The Dog had walked these same cement floors—I was truly a part of television magic. If my damn friend hadn’t been with me, I would have just stayed backstage, hung out in the green room, watching the monitor with the agents, managers, and writers, but I thought if David Mamet can sit in the audience, so can I.

The saddest job in Hollywood is the audience warm-up guy. They are the quintessential show business failures who somehow weasel their way onto a television set but have nothing to do with the actual production itself. They are there to “entertain” the audience between takes and to remind them to keep their energy up as a half hour show taping can last a good four hours. This guy was perfect—always smiling with his big ol’ white chompers, leathery face—think Bob Barker before he had white hair—and annoying as hell like a fucking clown mixed with a bad standup comic. I avoided looking him in the eye so he wouldn’t speak to me. After reminding us that we were a part of “television history, ladies and gentleman,” this hemorrhoid of a man began introducing the director and actors.

He began by introducing James Burrows, who I recognized mulling around the set from his stint on Lisa Kudrow’s fantastic but ill-fated HBO series The Comeback. Burrows is a sitcom legend, having directed Cheers, Taxi, Friends, and Will & Grace. Another Comeback alum (and Lisa Kudros’s producing partner) Dan Bucatinsky was also on set.

Kathryn Hahn was presented to the audience appearing as a dead-ringer (albeit younger) for Jennifer Saunders’ Edina. Her costume was true to one of the many incarnations of the BBC’s Edina, with a Boho/ fashion-conscious Buddhist-looking Indian silk robe in vibrant aqua paired with a purple blouse and a long strand of pearls. But it was a little too well put together.

But that was just the beginning of the trouble with Kristen Johnston’s depiction of Patsy. Johnston is a ham, both on and off camera. She was often funnier in between takes than she was during.

Kristen Johnston came out dressed as her character, Patsy, in a hot pink sweater with faux fur collar, leather mini skirt, metallic silver tights and red pumps. The only thing reminiscent of our beloved Joanna Lumley’s Patsy was the blonde hair piled high on her head but even that was marred by a cheap elastic headband you might see a teenage girl wearing. One of the important distinctions between Patsy and Edina was that Patsy actually had a penchant for style. Edina was the one squeezing herself into too-tight mini skirts and label-laden blouses. Patsy Stone knows three things: fashion, fucking, and substances. And that you can (or could) rely on. Joanna Lumley spent the first few seasons of the BBC series in smart skirt-suits referring to one vintage Chanel suit as her baby.

But that was just the beginning of the trouble with Kristen Johnston’s depiction of Patsy. Johnston is a ham, both on and off camera. She was often funnier in between takes than she was during. After repeatedly flubbing lines in the first scene (and ornery James Burrows growing steadily more annoyed), an audience member shouted, “You can do it,” to which Johnston quickly retorted, “At this point you could do it.” Johnston has a rubber-faced, Lucille Ball quality constantly giving up googley-eyed sitcom neighbor wackiness. That is the antithesis of Patsy Stone’s character. It is no coincidence that Stone is Patsy’s surname. The humor of Patsy lies in her understated, deadpan, frozen by injectables face. There is a necessary lack of self-awareness.

Oh and Patsy had not one cigarette in her hand the entire time. In fact, in her first scene she encourages Eddie not to smoke. Pardon? There are drug references and drinking, the funniest moment perhaps is taken from the BBC series when Eddie faints and Patsy sticks poppers up her nose telling Saffron they are smelling salts. When Eddie comes to, she says she suddenly has the urge to go line-dancing. The studio audience failed to respond to this gay reference but George and I were LOL’ing it up.

 

 

Hahn, on the other hand, is a nearly perfect American version of Edina who they only refer to as “Eddie” in the Fox series. In the opening scene, while scarfing down doughnuts and complaining about the pain of tobacco withdrawal, she is a mixture of Jennifer Coolidge and Jennifer Saunders — which works. Her physicality is a dead-on tribute to Saunders’s Edina from her numerous pratfalls to the way she drapes herself over the couch.

So, what’s the biggest failing of the American version of AbFab? The actresses appear too young.

While Hahn and Johnston are almost exactly the same ages Lumley and Saunders were when AbFab began in 1992, one must take into consideration that in 1992, people aged differently. Lumley and Saunders were attractive, mature-looking women. Johnston and Hahn appear to be in their early 30s and late 20s, respectively. The quest to keep up with youth culture which fueled the BBC AbFab series is lost on these women. Maybe they should try this again in ten years but I think not.

Eddie’s daughter, Saffron, is vital to the story because she represents sanity, providing the viewing audience with someone to identify with, a voice of reason. Zosia Mamet, who graduated the elite Crossroads School in 2006 making her somewhere around 21-years-old (according to her Facebook page) plays Saffron as lackluster and one-dimensional. I’m not even sure she was playing a character at all. She comes across as whiny and juvenile, a disgruntled teenager as opposed to Julia Sawalha’s perfect scolding and flustered depiction of the nerdy woman-child. Even Mamet’s untucked flannel shirt and jeans made her look more like Kurt Cobain (as Patsy refers to her in a funny one-liner) and less like Margaret Thatcher. Saffron is a perfect standout role for an unknown young actress but Mamet isn’t taking advantage. If she wasn’t celebrated playwright David Mamet’s daughter, you wonder why she was cast in the first place.

I can see the headlines in Variety now: “Fox’s ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ Not Living Up To It’s Name” — and they’ll be right. Watching the American version of AbFab is like having a dream about a beloved deceased friend. The whole time you are cognizant of the fact that it’s a foggy depiction of reality; the faces aren’t quite the same, the experience isn’t quite as good. You wake up feeling sentimental. I left stage 28 in a haze, longing for my old British friends.

Alas, there is nothing fabulous about the American version of Absolutely Fabulous. (Variety is totally gonna steal that line from me.) Maybe the rent-a-cop at the Sony security gate was a talisman, a symbol of what was to follow. Say it in your best monotone straight man voice and when you watch it: “Absolutely Fabulous.” And don’t expect much more than that.

Written by Matt Siegel. Siegel is a private liberal arts college-hopper who began at Sarah Lawrence, left his stain at Eugene Lang and finally finished at Hampshire. His unwillingness to commit now resides in L.A., where Matt has unsteadily worked for a random assortment of prominent folks, including Adam Carolla, Jill Clayburgh and Arianna Huffington. Other of his writings can be found here.

Last week, Queerty tried quashing the fears of rabid fans who hate when their favorite foreign shows get Americanized.

Photos: Matt Siegel; Splash News

By:           Queerty
On:           Mar 15, 2009
Tagged: , , , , , ,

  • 33 Comments
    • Lin
      Lin

      O God how depressing.

      Here’s what they should have done: Buy the rights to the BBC AbFab original, and spend the rest of the $ leftover from NOT remaking the show to pay any fcc fines for language/nudity/drug references, and SHOW THE DAMN SHOW FOR REAL! We’d all love to watch it again on the real telly, not dvd. Enough with the remakes already!

      Mar 15, 2009 at 3:29 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • hardmannyc
      hardmannyc

      Please kill me now. This is the cultural equivalent of American pro soccor, or European pro-American-style football. Does. Not. Translate.

      Mar 15, 2009 at 3:30 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • hardmannyc
      hardmannyc

      Oh, and Kristen Johnson playing Patsy after Joanna Lumley is like remaking Citizen Kane starring Jack Black in the title role.

      Mar 15, 2009 at 3:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • blake
      blake

      1. David Faustino and Bud The Dog

      –Faustino played Bud Bundy. The dog’s name was Buck.

      2. People don’t, as a rule, “age differently.”

      There have been no sudden evolutionary changes to humans. The difference is that these two actresses are younger and took better care of themselves that the original actresses. Smoking and suntanning cause accelerated aging of the skin.


      That said, actresses do look too young and pretty. Kristen Johnson does not look like an ex-fashion model. She is cute with doughy features and does not have the sharp angled look of associated with a model.

      Vanessa Williams of Ugly Betty fits the role better. She’s beautiful, looks like she’s in her early 40s, and is definitely able to be cruel. But, of course, she’s taken.

      Mar 15, 2009 at 3:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • flyerfier
      flyerfier

      hmm.. There is no way they could ever redo this show correctly. It has a cult following, so anyone who has seen the old one will hate this new version.

      I’m sure it’s gonna be watered down and utter crap. America is too uptight about even showing someone smoking a cigarette let alone any other thing that made the show excellent.

      Mar 15, 2009 at 10:04 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • gobsmacked
      gobsmacked

      Oh, my BLOODY BUGGERY BOLLOCKS!!!! My only hope now is that this remake will spark interest in the original series (for those who haven’t actually seen it yet, as hard as it is for me to believe that there are people who don’t even know who Jennifer Saunders or Joanna Lumley are!) and they will start showing it over here in the colonies! I saw the pictures of Kristen Johnston and told my hubby streetwalkers in Atlanta dress better than that! Patsy, train wreck that she was, always looked like she just stepped off the catwalk!! IMMACULATE AND FIERCE!

      I’m just so disappointed now…

      Mar 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • niles
      niles

      Sacrilege!

      Mar 16, 2009 at 12:40 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Eminent Victorian
      Eminent Victorian

      “Gautier”? “lied off the living room”?

      Who is Matt Siegel, and why is he writing?

      Mar 16, 2009 at 12:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • mbb
      mbb

      Peaked (peeked) . . . wondered (wandered) . . . Anybody edit at Queerty?

      Mar 16, 2009 at 12:57 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jan Widener
      Jan Widener

      @Eminent Victorian:

      I think it’s very well written. Maybe not so well edited.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 3:18 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jodie Skorecki
      Jodie Skorecki

      A “absolutely fabulous” , cleverly crafted account as to why “Ab Fab” American style may be short lived!

      Mar 16, 2009 at 11:12 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Cam
      Cam

      From the pictures I’ve seen your point about the wardrobe seems dead on. Patsy, for all her other faults was dead on perfect style-wise in that frosty, Anna Wintour, way where you don’t notice any particular piece of clothing, just that the whole outfit is put together perfectly. Lristen Johnson looks a bit more like she is trying to go the drag queen route. I really really hope they don’t mess up the series, the British version was one of the funniest things out there.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 11:16 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kelly
      Kelly

      Same thing as the American remake of “Kath & Kim”…if it ain’t broke, people…

      Mar 16, 2009 at 2:21 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Suz
      Suz

      “_______________is like having a dream about a beloved deceased friend. The whole time you are cognizant of the fact that it’s a foggy depiction of reality; the faces aren’t quite the same, the experience isn’t quite as good. You wake up feeling sentimental. I left stage 28 in a haze, longing for my old______________”

      I’m obsessed with this metaphor. Is it just me, or could insert the following: “Having sex without Crystal” and “friend, Tina”?

      Obsessed with Matt Siegel. Queerty, get this bitch an editor; he’s too good to do that grunt work himself.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 3:40 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Bitch Republic
      Bitch Republic

      I told y’all last week that Kristen Johnston would ruin it.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 3:42 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Miley Crisis
      Miley Crisis

      A friend of mine went to the taping and said it was funny. But then he had never seen the original.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 4:37 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Eminent Victorian
      Eminent Victorian

      @Jan Widener: Nah, it’s also badly written. Too, it appears Mr. Siegel has a number of friends writing in to applaud him, which is gross.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 4:42 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jan Widener
      Jan Widener

      @Eminent Victorian:
      I don’t know about all that, Eminent. Why so hateful? Were you the wardrobe person on the show? Or are you Kristen Johnson?

      Mar 16, 2009 at 4:53 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • ballerino
      ballerino

      I really hope this remake does not reference Patsys former career as a supermodel. That would be a huge oversight by all involved including Johnson and her representation. I agree with Kelly; the American version of Kath and Kim is god awful. Why remake everything that was amazing to begin with if you’re not doing it better or with a different point of view? Are shitty remakes going to be the legacy of pop culture in the 21st C. America?

      And Eminent Victorian you may be but worthy critic you’re not. Siegel’s writing is great despite his editing errors.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 5:27 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Bubble
      Bubble

      Well said. I was there as well, and you hit on everything that occurred to me. The writing was good, and it seemed like with the right players, it could have been conveyed better. I was surprised at Johnston’s frequent disregard of Burrows as well, but maybe they have that kind of working relationship. They need to ditch the clean cut crap and do a little creative casting. I think it could be viable for a season if they tweak.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 6:18 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Eminent Victorian
      Eminent Victorian

      @Jan Widener: My boyfriend will really be angry when he finds out I’m Kristen Johnson! :-) For me, anyway, I like her, but I have never met her, and I’d prefer to let people give the remake a chance before damning it based on what I think is a badly, bitchily written piece on some queer website, that’s all. Yes, maybe the show will be awful, but what’s so bad about waiting to see? Mainly, I just hate bad writing (yet I come back to this site, so, I dunno . . .).

      Mar 16, 2009 at 7:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Eminent Victorian
      Eminent Victorian

      @ballerino: My CV disagrees with you, honey.

      Mar 16, 2009 at 7:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Eff Ewe
      Eff Ewe

      Thank you for this article! I now know not to waste my time when the show airs. If only Matt Siegel could have warned me about the remake of Hairspray! (Unrelated, obviously, but seriously I want those two hours of my life back).

      Oh and Eminent Victorian, life is a lot of fun when you don’t spend it looking for what’s WRONG with it.

      [Cue Eminent Victorian's scathing comment which will in turn further my point].

      Mar 16, 2009 at 7:15 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Scrufff
      Scrufff

      regarding Kristen Johnson… a friend of mine worked on the Austin Powers movie in which she played a model, and he said that her improv was so funny, so scene stealing, that the insecure Mike Myers had the scenes seriously edited down to just a few minutes. She a good comedian, but she certainly no Patsy Stone!!!!

      Mar 16, 2009 at 7:31 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jan Widener
      Jan Widener

      Eminent Snob: So would you rather the writer not have a point of view? He doesn’t seem to be telling anyone what to do, he was at the taping and he is giving his feedback. He didn’t say there was anything “so bad about waiting to see,” if the show is good, you big baby. “A badly, bitchily written piece on some queer website?” Everything you’ve written on this queer website has been bitchy. Why don’t you link us to something you’ve written so we can see how talented you are?

      Mar 16, 2009 at 7:32 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • bodega vendetta
      bodega vendetta

      …just add a cocktail or 7 !

      Mar 16, 2009 at 7:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • MBNLA
      MBNLA

      They already made an American version of AB FAB. It was called CYBIL.

      Mar 17, 2009 at 2:43 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jan Widener
      Jan Widener

      @MBNLA:
      Ha!

      Mar 17, 2009 at 2:55 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • George Peterman
      George Peterman

      This is George…the one referenced in the article ;o), and yes, it is true! This is NOT the original AbFab by far, and how could it be? It is a different time, different country, different actors…you get the idea. But was it funny? Some of it was, but there were so many distractions during the taping (being in the studio audience) that it was hard to focus on the material. I am reserving judgement until after I see some episodes at home, on my couch, while wearing head-to-toe Gaultier & sipping a Stoli martini, sweetie dahling!

      Mar 17, 2009 at 10:14 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Katie Ward
      Katie Ward

      NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO IT NEEDS TO BE STOPED!!!!!!!!!!!
      no one can ever beet jennifer saunders and joanna lumely, even if they arnt going to beet them no one can copy them its insaaaaaane! It’s just not the same hearing an american say darling it wont wooork, everything about it is wrong.

      Mar 18, 2009 at 1:26 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leonard
      Leonard

      Matt, I haven’t seen the show yet – but I feel like I already have. Hilarious.

      Mar 18, 2009 at 2:01 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • modeux
      modeux

      flush it down the pan!! bring me a…

      …a knitting needle?

      A KNITTING NEEDLE!!!

      Mar 26, 2009 at 10:06 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • joe
      joe

      I think the writer here is spending too much time comparing and contrasting what was the same and what was different when most viewers will not be. I’m a HUGE fan of the original but I applaud FOX for at least casting it well and I’m optimistic for it’s success.

      The way that I look it is that Jennifer Saunders signed off on this remake and it’s her genius creation…sure she’s making $$$ off it potentially but if this was SOOOOO wrong why wouldn’t it’s creator feel that strongly? I feel strongly in Jennifer’s creation and that it DESERVES an adaptation so new fans can enjoy this hilarious concept.

      I have never seen the UK originals of All In The Family, Sanford & Son or The Office and I LOVE the US versions. I grew up watching the silly slapstick innuendo humomr on Three’s Company and I still get a laugh out of it…I’ve seen the UK original “Man About The House” and I wouldn’t say it was some superior version…it was funny, it was first but the US version does the concept justice.

      I think the same can be true here.

      Apr 29, 2009 at 7:13 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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