Synopsis by Brian J. Dillard
Known primarily in America as the launch pad for Absolutely Fabulous, French & Saunders is actually a British TV comedy institution that has generated five series and numerous specials since it first appeared in 1987. The titular stars, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, met in the 1970s at London's Central School of Speech and Drama, where they both pursued teaching degrees. They eventually joined the Comic Strip, an improvisational live comedy troupe that included future Saunders spouse Adrian Edmondson. A series of Comic Strip films began appearing on BBC 4 in the early '80s; French and Saunders soon found themselves starring alongside Tracey Ullman and future "Ab Fab" script editor Ruby Wax in the 1984-1985 sitcom Girls on Top. By 1987, the duo had gained enough acclaim to write and star in their own program. French & Saunders was initially conceived as a send-up of a poorly run BBC variety show, but soon the duo's signature mixture of pop culture parody and meta-British humor took shape. Hilarious movie send-ups -- from Alien to Fellini, Silence of the Lambs to Merchant and Ivory -- ran alongside skits that gently poked fun at all aspects of English life: "page three girls," stiff upper lips, swinging-'60s hedonism, and London snobbery. The duo's brand of humor has been amply documented in a number of video collections, including French & Saunders: At the Movies, French & Saunders: Gentlemen Prefer, French & Saunders: Living in a Material World and French & Saunders: The Ingenue Years. In recent years, holiday specials have replaced regular episodes of the series; parodies of Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace and the making of Titanic proved especially popular. In addition to working with her partner, French has starred separately in the Vicar of Dibley and Murder Most Horrid; Saunders, of course, has written and starred in Absolutely Fabulous since its inception as a French & Saunders skit in the early '90s.