Last week, the Ab Fab movie came out and it was fabulous. If you are a fan of the show, you will have to see it. No, it did not confirm my theories but it did make me giggle for an hour and a half.
Around the movie’s release, something strange happened, as a friend of mine awoke me to by way of an Instagram post: there was an attempted American adaptation of the beloved British show. It was never released and is a fascinating, bizarre, ridiculous nugget of popular culture lost.
The American version was being considered in 2009, not too long after similar import Kath & Kim was adapted and flopped in the US. The American Ab Fab was supposed to be a TV movie—a sign that the show wasn’t working, that things needed to be salvaged, that a network was still curious to see if it’d “work”—starring Kathryn Hahn of Transparent fame as Eddie, Kristen Johnston of 3rd Rock From The Sun fame as Patsy, and Zosia Mamet of Girls fame as Saffy. Yes, that was the real cast.
This didn’t exist in the hypothetical either: the show filmed, caught by paparazzi as proof that these actors embodied the characters and lived, unscathed. Pilot reports from newspapers showcased the upcoming project, which was set for Fox.
The Fox version will be overseen by Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz and the husband-and-wife team behind Two and a Half Men, Eric and Kim Tannenbaum, for Sony Pictures TV, Tantamount and BBC Worldwide America.
Hurwitz was also behind a recent US adaptation of The Thick of It, although it was not picked up for a series.
Saturday Night Live writer Christine Zander is working on the script and will also executive produce along with Saunders and BBC Worldwide Productions USA’s vice-president of programming and content strategy.
Saunders was involved, thank heavens, but that’s where the goodness ends.
Sight unseen, the proposed adaptation caused a commotion in a lot of different ways. Jezebel theorized that “it could be funny to explore these women as former Motley Crue or G’N’R fans.” Entertainment Weekly got the scoop from Johnston, who said of the show, “It’s one of those scripts that’s like my favorite kind because on paper you’re like, Oh, this is funny, but when you read it out loud with two actresses, it’s, like, the funniest shit ever.” Promising? Perhaps!
What was most interesting is gay publication Queerty had a report from the front lines: an account of the show from an audience warmup person, a unique (and terribly annoying) Hollywood job where you get and keep a live audience hyped. The hype person thought Hahn and Johnston were great but the problem was that they were too young for the roles. The most damning critique was of Mamet whose Saffy was “lackluster and one-dimensional,” coming across as “whiny and juvenile, a disgruntled teenager as opposed to Julia Sawalha’s perfect scolding and flustered depiction of the nerdy woman-child.” Ouch.
The most delicious part was the ending though, which saw the writing on the wall.
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.
Sadly, the speculation was correct.
In May of 2009, the channel that green lit the pilot—Fox—passed on the project, sending it off to a life lived shopping around unsuccessfully and unseen. So where does that leave this lost gem of Ab Fab ephemera? It sits somewhere on a production studio shelf, awaiting the day for it to leak.
If you meet Kathryn Hahn, Kristen Johnston, or Zosia Mamet, ask them about this. What happened? Did it feel as bad to make as it was theorized to be? Will they, as the Queerty writer mused, regroup in ten years, in 2019, when the actors might actually look the part? Will we ever be able to see the tape? We have the receipts, the proof that it exists, now it’s just time to see the doomed finished product.