Absolutely Fabulous: Why this dated duo are out of the running

Ab Fab's Olympics special trails behind Twenty Twelve

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The Independent Culture

"OK, so here's the thing…" as Siobhan Sharpe, the branding "expert" played by Jessica Hynes in the BBC2 sitcom Twenty Twelve might say, in what is rapidly becoming the TV catchphrase of the summer. "Absolutely Fabulous does the Olympics. Now, this is a mood buy-in… let's break out the magic dust." But is Ab Fab really magical anymore?

And, we might ask, what does a comedy about fashionistas stuck in a Nineties Holland Park time-warp possibly have to do with, or say, about the London 2012 Games, unless you see the coming global sporting festival as a logical conclusion of Cool Britannia? The same city, yes, and Stella McCartney might have designed the official GB team kit, but the connection is tangential at best. Put in next to BBC2's blissful Twenty Twelve it begins to look like an irrelevance.

McCartney is one of the obligatory "celebrities" playing themselves (along with Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, who also had a cameo in last night's Twenty Twelve) in the forthcoming Olympics episode, but if you think that's impressive just wind back 18 years to a random Absolutely Fabulous episode from 1994, which I stumbled upon on digital channel Gold the other night. Lulu, Zandra Rhodes, Britt Ekland and Jo Brand (among several others) were all acting up a storm in a vibrant episode that steamed into neurotic parenting, slavish minimalism and much else besides with comic relish totally lacking from next week's aimless and only intermittently smile-inducing "special".

Its real subject is anyway less the Olympics – although they do provide an excuse for Patsy to light up a king-size from the torch – than the duo's fear of ageing, or as Edina puts it: "I feel like the world's closing up on me… I just can't keep up." Sadly, you could say the same about Ab Fab. It's ironic that while this sitcom refuses to die (a movie is in the works, apparently), next week sees the last of Twenty Twelve – victim (or beneficiary) of the short natural life-span pre-ordained by its subject matter. And while one PR monster, Edina Monsoon, carries on regardless, this will be the last we see of her inspired counterpart, Jessica's Hynes's Siobhan Sharpe. Jennifer Saunders' Edina is too pantomime for my taste, although the studio audience was hooting with delight at every eye-roll. Put it against Hynes's sly portrait and Saunders goes off the scale.

Legend has it that Edina is based on fashion PR Lynne Franks, but apparently it's Siobhan, owner of a horribly plausible-sounding company Perfect Curve, that real PRs watch in horrified self-recognition. Hynes and scriptwriter John Morton between them seem to have created an iconic comic character that is to public relations what The Thick of It's Malcolm Tucker is to spin-doctoring.

If Fawlty Towers, like Absolutely Fabulous, had staggered on for 20 years, it would still have been around in 1995, and probably into the era of New Labour (what would the hotel's long-serving guest, Ballard Berkeley's "Major", have made of Blair?). As it is, John Cleese's sitcom is both sublimely funny and evocative its era, the mid-1970s. Twenty Twelve will forever remind us hilariously and possibly poignantly about our hopes and fears for the London Olympics.

Visit old episodes of Absolutely Fabulous on Gold and you have an unbeatable snapshot of Nineties excess. But now? Sourdough, as Siobhan might say. Oh well. Ab Fab was always about growing old disgracefully. Who knew that it would be as good as its word?

'Absolutely Fabulous' is on Monday at 9.30pm on BBC1; 'Twenty Twelve' ends next Tuesday at 10pm on BBC2