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So nice to see you, sweetie darlings

"I did it because I wanted to work with all those people again, and because it was such fun," said Jennifer Saunders, trying with limited success to explain how it was that she came to write six new episodes of Absolutely Fabulous long after the show was supposed to be dead and gone.

The end of Absolutely Fabulous was first announced after its third six-episode season in 1995. It was announced again in 1997. But it is 2001 and the British series known to fans as Ab Fab, about the misadventures of two drug- and alcohol-enjoying, trend-worshipping, tight clothes-wearing women well past their first blush of youth, is back once again, starting tonight, for what is perhaps its final last hurrah (though don't bet on it, BBC executives say).

There is no question that Ab Fab enthusiasts will find the tone and characters absolutely familiar. Eddy (Jennifer Saunders) is still falling drunkenly down the stairs, stuffing herself into shockingly unflattering designer clothing (Burberry, now, instead of Lacroix), and chasing every passing fad imaginable, from microscooters for grownups to detoxing for the slightly overweight. ("In three weeks, I want to be on the cusp of organ failure," she announces, describing her new diet-and-exercise regime.)

Meanwhile, her 50-something pal Patsy (Joanna Lumley) is still living on champagne, pills and air ("Patsy hasn't eaten since 1974," Eddy says), frantically test-driving the latest antiwrinkle treatments, and dropping cutting remarks from the sneering corner of her lipsticked mouth. Their supporting cast _ June Whitfield as Eddy's hopeless mother; Julia Sawalha as Saffy, her prudish daughter; and Jane Horrocks as Bubbles, her dippy assistant _ is back in force, too.

When Ab Fab was first shown, in 1992, it proved prescient: The types it lampooned _ celebrity-hobnobbing, fad-crazed, fashion-world materialists _ were just beginning to emerge as forces in the greater culture. But since then the world has caught up with Ab Fab.

"What used to be extraordinary _ the idea of Botox, the idea of people freezing their faces, certain types of plastic surgery, colonic irrigation _ they're so everyday now," Saunders said.

What has changed most in the last decade, she said, is the explosion of celebrity culture, particularly in Britain, which has a relentless appetite for news of the famous but not enough famous people to go around.

"It's just massive," Saunders said. "You can't move for celebrity diets, celebrity bodies, celebrity this and celebrity that, the obsession with churning out the same old photographs and slapping new headlines on them."

The new episodes highlight celebrity worship by including cameos of actual British celebrities, including the former model Twiggy, the singer Marianne Faithfull and Lady Victoria Hervey, a socialite whose claim to fame is the unironic column she writes for the Sunday Times of London chronicling the fabulousness of her partygoing life.

Saunders says she is fond of her characters, but she recognizes that they have grown more bitter with the years. This includes Saffy, well past her teenage years but still living at home and still wearing a frumpy Fair Isle cardigan. Full of anger about her childhood _ "My life is like an endless winter," she moans _ she writes a play called Self-Raising Flower and hires an old, fat actor to play her mother.

In the final episode, Eddy's business is hemorrhaging clients, and in desperation she ostentatiously stands outside her house, hosing down her car, in the hope that Madonna and her husband, the director Guy Ritchie, who were photographed last year washing their own car in the street, will drive by and befriend her.

"They are sadder because they're older," Saunders said. "The world doesn't really work for them the way it used to."

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