BFS Video // 1985 // 175 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dezhda Mountz (Retired) // March 14th, 2003
Before Absolutely Fabulous made them a famous writing/acting duo, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French brightened the Brit boob tube with Girls On Top, a sitcom about vastly different women living in the same London flat. This comedy proved that Saunders and French had that magic touch and also made excellent use of pre-eponymous-show Tracey Ullman and Ruby Wax (also a writer of this show). How does the show hold up, over 15 years later?
Feminist Amanda Ripley (Dawn French) is desperate for a London flat. As luck would have it, she gets a flat under the watchful eye of landlord Lady Carlton (Joan Greenwood, Tom Jones), a romance novelist. Her rather slow old friend Jennifer Marsh (Jennifer Saunders, Friends, Absolutely Fabulous) tracks her down and just kinda...stays, as does the supposedly rent-stricken Candice Valentine (Tracy Ullman). Soon, American actress Shelley DuPont joins the crowd. Before they know it, these four women are stuck together, and, of course, wackiness ensues...
In this episode, the four women get together under less than desirable circumstances but realize this is their only hope for a sweet pad in the city. Various situation comedy can't help but occur -- Tracy Ullman's latest suitor rips off Amanda's wallet as Jennifer dumbly watches -- the usual Britcom nonsense. Plus, the thief is...a young Alan Rickman! Cool!
Amanda is house manager and starts a chore assignment routine, with a criss-crossed flow chart to boot. Boy-crazy Candice brings back a director who's interested in filming the girls, so of course Shelley goes crazy with the opportunity and decides to do a surreal performance of "Gone with the Wind." There's nothing like a brash New Yawker in an antebellum gown.
Candice cries poor every time rent's due, pleading various illnesses and her mysterious charitable work with the less fortunate. The other girls track her down one day to her actual job demonstrating exercise products and various other offerings from the local department store. Horrified, Candice makes up some bullock that she's seeing Prince Andrew, and naturally, all hell breaks loose. (For those wondering, Prince Andrew never appears.)
Jennifer, for some unknown reason, runs errands for the girls with Lady Carlton's stuffed dog, Josephine. Going along with proper etiquette, Jennifer leaves Josephine outside. She comes back -- and the dog is gone, naturally. Who couldn't pass up a stuffed hound? The girls put together a makeshift stuffed pup and drop it down to Lady Carleton's window. Amanda puts on her best dog voice and tells Lady Carlton that she, Josephine, is in heaven now. All dogs go to heaven, right? Those wacky ladies. Candice almost finks out of helping by saying she's "got to work with anorexics." "What, to steal their food?" Shelley retorts. Ha!
"Who's Ya Uncle Shelley"
Jennifer becomes a cleaning lady at a financial exchange -- "dog poo is one of my specialties" -- and somehow becomes a top broker. The girls suddenly become her best friend -- you know, Amanda quits telling her to "oh, shut up!" Inevitably, the gig doesn't go on forever, but it's fun while it lasts.
"Lower the Donkey"
Amanda creates a shelter, apparently in fear of a nuclear attack. The women barge in at various moments, using up all her precious air. In the meantime, Lady Carlton creates an apocalyptic situation of her own as she attempts to cook.
The girls, except for straitlaced Amanda, go to a nice club for a fun night out. Amanda doesn't want Jennifer to go for fear she'll get lost or hurt, and sure enough, Candice comes back empty handed. Yep, Jennifer gets kidnapped. What will get her released sooner -- her stupidity driving her tough-guy captors crazy, or the 10,000 pounds the ladies desperately try to collect?
I'm a huge fan of British comedy but never knew this show existed (how could I? What kind of fan am I?). It was a pleasure to see these brilliant ladies as their careers started to hit stride. They're all spot-on -- though Ruby Wax's obnoxious New Yorker Shelley is a bit too broad to be hilarious at times -- and jokes about bikini hair removal and stuffed dogs, well, you just can't go wrong with those.
Saunders wrote many of the scripts and her way with words and her cross between slapstick and high comedy meld well here, foreshadowing the masterpiece of British comedy that she would create with French in "Ab Fab." (Can you tell I'm a fan particularly of this show?) Plus, it's Saunder's character that sticks with you the longest. I thought, as she played the practically mentally retarded Jennifer -- with shuffling feet, out-of-it eyes and dull voice -- that she would be wasted, but she provides the most deadpan, funny moments in the whole show. Definitely at treat to see this master at work.
The transfer and sound mix are so-so. The Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix was obviously front and center and not outstanding, but for such things you don't need much of a complicated set up anyways. Visually, however, the 1.33:1 full screen transfer is fine (this being a TV show and all), though I would have liked outdoors scenes to be sharper. Perhaps because the majority of lighting was done inside and the outside scenes are just to tie together the studio-shot meat of the show, those scenes are dull, dark, and turgid. Overall these are fine presentations for the show they support.
The extras are housed on the first disc in this collection, and they're adequate. This is really a collector's disc of episodes, not a touching retrospective of the comedy. Though a well-done show, Ab Fab and Fawlty Towers are British shows that have more of a following. We get straightforward bios and filmographies of the ladies, and I actually learned more about the women behind "Ab Fab" and "Ruby," including bits about out how Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French met, their early days in sketch comedy, that sort of thing.
Filmographies are, as expected, none too sexy, but valuable for the Britcom buff, and the trivia section is a decent add-on, though most fans will know about these tidbits of information already. The menu design is loud, colorful, and kind of slapped together, but goes along with the whole live-to-tape chintziness of the sitcom itself.
A fine treat to see these brilliant ladies of British comedy all together under one roof. Couldn't have asked for a better blend of talent, and a must for any fan of "Ab Fab," Tracy Ullman, or Ruby Wax (who made her name with her own talk show). Pure hilarity and obtuseness from the people who know such things best.
A slap on the wrist for icky transfer and blah extras. Otherwise, free to keep us laughing our arses off!
Review content copyright © 2003 Dezhda Mountz; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 175 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode
* BBC: Ruby Wax's Official Site
* BBC: Ab Fab Official Site