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I have been rewatching Absolutely Fabulous, and was actually surprised that a show I once thought was very ghey is actually, to use modern terminology, based. AbFab wasn’t celebrating a decadent, hedonistic lifestyle, it was ridiculing it. And as I thought about it some more, AbFab has a lot in common with the other great sitcom of the 1990s, Frasier.
On the surface, the shows don’t seem very much alike, but in addition to being stunningly well-written and flawlessly cast, both of these are ‘comedies of manners.‘ AbFab chose the object of its humor to be the excesses of high fashion and celebrity (but was definitely not above slapstick), while Frasier went after pretentious intellectualism and psychology. But the two shows actually had quite a bit more in common beneath the surface.
In both series, the main characters chased affirmation and validation from their respective societies. Frasier chased awards and accolades that recognized and paid tribute to his intellect. Edina Monsoon chased after every pop-culture trend in a desperate attempt to raise her social status (“a mixed-race baby is the best fashion accessory a woman in my position could have!“), whether it was buying hundreds of thousands of dollars in modern art, or being unsure if she liked the earrings her daughter had birthday-gifted her without knowing for sure if they were designer. “Do you like them?” “I like them if they’re Lacroix.” One episode of Frasier centered on Niles and Frasier’s jealousy that their plumber drove a larger Mercedes. The main characters never caught on that they were the butt of the jokes.
Both shows featured a sibling pair as the main characters. Niles and Frasier Crane were brothers, and Edina and Patsy were sisters in all but the biological sense. And just as Niles represented Frasier’s effete intellectualism in its most concentrated form, Patsy was a model of excess that Edina envied but could never fully indulge.
Both shows set their main characters’ pursuit of status against a family dynamic. Martin Crane was the grounded father of the Crane clan, while daughter Saffron Monsoon tried in vain to keep her mother grounded. Niles and Frasier both had dysfunctional ex-wives, while Edina had her homosexual ex-husband Justin and another ex-husband, Marshall, whose new love was more of a nurse/mother than a partner. Frasier had super-competent, highly promiscuous producer Roz; Patsy had promiscuous, Type-A magazine editor Magda. I guess there’s some kind of analogy for eccentric Daphne and air-headed personal assistant Bubble, as well.
Both shows had an off-screen family member whose effect on the main characters was a source of humor but was never seen on-screen. On Frasier, this was Niles’s “not-quite-human-woman” wife Maris. On AbFab, this was Edina’s estranged son Serge, who was so desperate to escape his mother’s dysfunction that he ended up on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in a submarine doing research on the mid-Atlantic rift. No actor or actress could have lived up to the Maris or Serge of the audience’s imagination, and the producers were wise not to try.
All right, a couple of choice samples of each grabbed from YouTube. Intellectually, AbFab was Id, Frasier was Superego.
Both shows wear well 30 years on compared with most of their contemporaries. Extra credit to Frasier for being the rare successor sitcom that vastly exceeded the show it spun off from. Most of them end up as AfterMASH or Joey.Published in