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From Across the Pond: "French & Saunders Christmas Celebrity Special"

If you've never experienced the comedic duo of French & Saunders (that would be Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders, naturally), you are seriously missing out.

After all, it was on their show that they first premiered a little sketch about insufferable fashion victim Edina and her buttoned-up daughter Saffron that would eventually go on to become international comedy smash hit Absolutely Fabulous. (While French originated the role of Saffy on French & Saunders, Julia Sawalha played her on the series.)

Both of these comedians are talented in their own right and have gone on to various series of their own. Saunders wrote and starred in Ab Fab (and the upcoming Clatterford, which airs in the UK under the name Jam & Jerusalem); French starred as Geraldine Granger in the much beloved series The Vicar of Dibley (itself getting the Stateside makeover treatment this pilot season as comedy The Minister of Divine for FOX). Both have had numerous side projects and yet have continued to come together for 25 plus years now to collaborate on French & Saunders material.

The most recent of these collaborations is the 2005 French & Saunders Christmas Celebrity Special, which BBC America is premiering Stateside on Thursday night. For Anglophiles and fans of Brit telly, this is a rare treat and Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders go to any lengths to savagely skewer celebs, whether it be Elton John or Boy George and George Michael (seen above) or feuding former in-laws Jackie Stallone and Brigitte Nielsen. (Though I defy all but the most avid British tabloid readers to immediately recognize Jackie Stallone.)

French and Saunders excel at movie parodies and their recreations--and, um, re-envisioning--of famous scenes from famous flicks are always spot on and hilarious. (If you don't believe me, you must run out and watch their What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Misery, Kill Bill, and The Exorcist spoofs.) No one and nothing is safe as these comedians tackle everything from quiz show Mastermind to Mike Leigh Oscar bait Vera Drake, here performed with wild abandon by French and Saunders.

Also being skewered this time around: long-running Brit soap EastEnders, which gets the F&S treatment in a sketch featuring the Extras--two older female professional extras who wind up bollocking up every single production they appear in. Here these two try to steal the scene away from Little Mo, Alfie, and Kat (don't ask) in a Walford Square scene in which they end up selling underwear from a market stall. But the real gem of the special has got to be the sketch in which these two play decidedly crooked child care professionals who have stumbled onto a sure-fire get-rich-quick scheme: dress up the kiddies as celebrity lookie-likies. Anyone who has ever seen even a snippet of Ground Force will get a kick out of "Charlie Dimmock," but the star has got to be the littlest "J.Lo."

But this isn't just your run-of-the-mill average celebrity spoof show. This is jaw-dropping comedy at its most self-aware; neither French nor Saunders are afraid of looking "ugly" in pursuit of comedy and they're happy to play up their own insecurities and frailties: most notably, French's jealousy of Saunders and Saunder's patented grumpiness. And often they will break character during a scene, to either goad one another about the awfulness of their attempted accent (both seem terrible at Southern American dialects) or to question the veracity of their scenes.

In the end, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders might just be the two oldest kids playing dress up, but there's something endearing--not to mention entertaining--about seeing French and Saunders transform themselves into a wide array of eccentrics and, yes, celebrities for our amusement. It's the perfect tongue-in-cheek antidote to the chaos of this time of year (or any time of year, really). And, in the end, isn't that what we all need this holiday season?

"French & Saunders Christmas Celebrity Special" premieres Thursday at 11 pm ET and 8 pm PT on BBC America.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: How I Met Your Mother/The Class (CBS); Deal or No Deal (NBC); Everybody Hates Chris/All of Us (CW); Wife Swap (ABC); House (FOX); Wicked Wicked Games (MyNet)

9 pm: Two and a Half Men/The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS); Identity (NBC); Girlfriends/The Game (WB); Supernanny (ABC); Bones (FOX); Watch Over Me (MyNet)

10 pm: CSI: Miami (CBS); Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC); What About Brian (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

8:00 pm: Everybody Hates Chris.

Now on its new night (Mondays) and at a new time (8 pm), it's the second season of former UPN comedy Everybody Hates Chris. On tonight's repeat episode ("Everybody Hates Elections"), Chris comes to the realization that he must make the best campaign speech of all time in order to win the class presidential election.

9:30 pm: Old Christine.

I can't tell you why I like watching this traditional sitcom, but Julia Louis-Dreyfus is like a warm blanket of coziness after a long Monday. On tonight's episode ("Oh God, Yes"), Christine's son Ritchie decides he wants to attend church.

10-11:30 pm: Eleventh Hour on BBC America.

Patrick Stewart plays Charlies Xavier, mutant rights activist and the strongest telepath on the planet-- Okay, maybe not. In this new import from Blighty, Stewart plays a scientist dealing with paranormal phenomena. On tonight's episode, a friend of Hood's (that would be Stewart, natch) believes that someone is sabotaging his work and threatening him. Joining Stewart: Ashley Jensen of Extras and Ugly Betty.

Comments

Anyone who says that women don't make great comedians have not seen French and Saunders in action. Dawn French is consistently brilliant with her physical comedy while Jennifer Saunders is a true chameleon, able to take on any role...from Sigorney Weaver in "Alien" to Joan Crawford to fallen pop star George Michael. Both of these women are always a treat to watch.
Anonymous said…
I wish I had BBC... *sigh*.

Completely switching gears, any thoughts on the new shows on TBS? My Boys, 10 Items or Less...

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