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TV Time Warp: Absolutely Fabulous Anachronisms

[ 255 ] April 21, 2017 |

I’m going to take a little break from talking about human suffering in on screen to bring you a different way of encountering social norms through television.


Comedic duo Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley as accidentally neo-Luddite Edina and Patsy

Enter the legendary British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous about trashy London women working in high fashion in the 1990’s. I’m an older millennial and I remember watching the show when it aired in the US on Comedy Central. I didn’t really know what was going on but they talked funny so I was hooked. Now that I live in London and call myself a “media anthropologist”, it seems as a good time as any to revisit.


Edina uses her electronic organizer to ignore doing any actual organizing

While on a flight I came across an old episode where main character Edina gets an electronic organizer and it ruins her life. Well, her life was already pretty horrible but the device ends up becoming a total nuisance and she throws it out the window. My iphone is practically an extension of my body, so I winced a little at that scene.

Later, she calls her assistant Bubbles to come over and take notes. The strange blonde pixie arrives with a pad and pen and Eddie asks, “Where is your computer?!” She had previously told Bubbles to get a “lap top”. Confused, and perhaps a little scared, Bubbles reveals she has a tiny “lap dog” in her purse.

Bubbles holds an early version of the iPad, called a "pad"

Bubbles holds an early version of the iPad, called a “pad”

This episode, “Door Handle”, aired in 1995 and is curiously anti-technology. Even in the newer iterations of the adventures of Edina and Patsy, the two never really come to terms with the way technology has changed their society. They stay fabulously aloof. Given that in the 90’s their characters were anachronisms constantly pining for their younger days with “Mick and the boys”, this all fits neatly together. So who could really blame creator Jennifer Saunders for failing to recognize where mobile phone technology might go?


What older TV shows have you re-watched and felt a pang of nostalgia for their technology?


Comments (255)

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  1. shawn k says:

    Many Seinfeld episodes revolve around problems that wouldn’t exist if they all had cell phones.

    • The creators stopped posting in 2015, but the @SeinfeldToday Twitter was brilliant.

    • LeeEsq says:

      Same with horror movies or murder mysteries where a group of people are isolated and a crazy killer is on the loose.

      • Ramon A. Clef says:

        It messes with a lot of mystery novel tropes, too. Some writers invent elaborate excuses for their characters to lose their phones (or run out of battery) at every inopportune moment. The partners who write as P. J. Parrish deliberately set their series before the cell phone era because they did not want to have to keep up with the technology.

        • nixnutz says:

          Law & Order UK has a similar thing, it’s remakes of the greatest hits of the original series but now the cops solve all the crimes by looking at CCTV footage.

        • LeeEsq says:

          A lot of mystery and horror troops are based on the premise of being unable to communicate with the outside world and get help. Cell phones, especially smart phones with internet access, really make it hard to get that type of isolation anymore. You really need to come up with some contrived conveniences to pull it off.

    • Crusty says:

      Off the top of my head, there’s the episode where Kramer gets Jerry a two-line phone for his birthday, Jerry gets his dad a personal digital assistant/organizer thing which his dad refers to as a tip calculator because it has a calculator function that his dad can use at restaurants- Jerry is frustrated that his dad doesn’t realize it does other things, and then there are episodes where they’re trying to meet up with each other at the movies but they keep getting the times and location mixed up. A text or phone call would solve that.

      There’s also one of my favorite scenes, where Kramer pretends to be moviefone, but nobody uses that anymore.

      Then you can move to a more general level- with a simple google search, the unemployment lady would learn that there is no Vandelay Industries and they are not in need of a latex salesman.

      And finally, there’d be basically no socializing in Jerry’s apartment- all just texting.

      • njorl says:

        I feel confident that Kramer’s intern could whip up a “Vandelay Industries” web site for George, which advertised an opening for a latex salesman.
        People would respond. Kramer’s intern would arrange for interviews. Kramer would interview people, just for kicks.
        He’d be so impressed with someone that he’d offer him a job. Jerry would try to explain to Kramer that he doesn’t actually have any latex to sell. Kramer would respond by saying what a good salesman the guy is, thinking that he is making a rational argument.

      • los says:

        Crusty says:

        A text or phone call would solve that.

        That’s what the reptoids[1] want you to think, while they intercept and replace yoour messages.
        Apparently you read too much fakenews. Go to prisonplanet for the truth.

        1. but really THE SOROS

    • jmauro says:

      Friends is very much the same. All the time spent waiting at home for a call, confusion about which roommate the call was for, being unable to find people when away from the house or cafe, and the answering machine antics are now painful to watch in the age of almost everyone having their own cellphone.

  2. UnderTheSun says:

    So who could really blame creator Jennifer Saunders for failing to recognize where mobile phone technology might go?

    It’s a comedy drama so being opposed to electronic devices is a cheap plot device to gain laughs. Whether or not Jennifer Saunders knows where mobile phone technology might have gone is an entirely different matter but there are people out there who weren’t enamoured of mobile phone technology.

    • It was certainly never a drama =)

    • C.V. Danes says:

      Whether or not Jennifer Saunders knows where mobile phone technology might have gone is an entirely different matter but there are people out there who weren’t enamoured of mobile phone technology.

      Many of those people are still around, including myself.

      • rhino says:

        Certainly a two edged sword.

        I love having the world at my fingertips. Can’t say I enjoy having myself at my boss’s fingertips, especially when he feels I should pick up the phone after working hours. We need an app that records how much time we spend doing labour on our smart phones, and automatically bills our employers for overtime at say 10X our normal pay. Pass a law. Then this shit would only happen for actual emergencies.

        My boss gave me shit once for not picking up the phone while at dinner with my (now ex) wife. It was our anniversary (which he knew) and he wanted to ask me something that a) it was his job to know already, b) it was not my job to know at all, and c) could not only have waited until morning, it could have waited for *weeks*. That was when I stopped giving bosses my cell phone number.

        • Stag Party Palin says:

          When the first pagers arrived it was a status symbol to have one. A bit later on, it became a status symbol NOT to have one because you were too important to be bothered with calls from your boss/patient/spouse.

          I don’t have a cell phone because they don’t work where I live. It’s wonderful.

        • C.V. Danes says:

          Yeah, I had a boss once who had to have slept with her blackberry under her pillow. I would get up in the morning and there would be texts from like 2am.

          • I had a boss like that. I quit without getting paid because those 3am emails were daily and started to turn into “I’m going to call until you pick up”. I wasn’t about to let it turn in to full stalking behavior.

    • ChrisGrrr says:

      Thank you, thank you!

      Criticizing Saunders for this “failure” is the clearest proof I could need that some writers are worth avoiding from now on.

    • shawn k says:

      ” being opposed to electronic devices is a cheap plot device to gain laughs. ”

      I recently came across a Married with Children where Peg talked Al into buying a computer. By the end he smashed it to bits with a baseball bat to joyous applause from the live audience.

  3. N__B says:

    The Avengers. There was no crime, no geopolitical crisis that couldn’t be fixed with an umbrella, a steel-lined bowler hat, and some karate.

  4. MAJeff says:

    Eddie’s speech at the PR PR Person’s Award Dinner of the Month Lunch pretty much sums it up, “I don’t want more choices, I just want better things!”

  5. Xenos says:

    Yes, Minister. The existence of witty and clever people in positions of power (even if just in the civil service) was not such an escapist fantasy. A classy comedy that had a relatively knowledgeable audience.

  6. LeeEsq says:

    My kid and teen years were during the 1980s and 1990s and really can’t imagine going back to life before the Internet and smart phones. Arranging a simple get together with friends would take more work than it does now because everybody would have to be contacted on their home or work phone in advance unless you socialized together at school or work and definite plans set. The positive side to this is that people might have committed more because arranging get togethers was harder.

    • C.V. Danes says:

      The positive side to this is that people might have committed more because arranging get togethers was harder.

      And yet life was mysteriously so simpler back then.

      • Was it though? My dad could get lost trying to find a restaurant for hours. Now at 66 with an iphone he’ll get lost for one hour at most. =)

        • C.V. Danes says:

          Of course, I’m looking back through rose colored glasses, but life did seem to be a lot less hectic back then without innumerable devices clamoring for my attention :-)

          • LeeEsq says:

            Both can be true. Life was less hectic because it was harder to contact people so you needed to give them leeway. It was more complicated in other ways though.

            • C.V. Danes says:

              I dunno. I kind of miss the days when people didn’t freak out if you didn’t respond within 30 seconds of them leaving you a message, and when people had an attention span that was longer than 9 seconds :-)

              • LeeEsq says:

                Americans always had a short attention span. Vaudeville developed as a form of entertainment because of that.

                • The Dark God of Time says:

                  No, the real genius of vaudeville was to make such entertainments family-friendly.

                  In the early 1880s, impresario Tony Pastor, a circus ringmaster turned theatre manager, capitalized on middle class sensibilities and spending power when he began to feature “polite” variety programs in several of his New York City theatres. The usual date given for the “birth” of vaudeville is October 24, 1881 at New York’s Fourteenth Street Theater, when Pastor famously staged the first bill of self-proclaimed “clean” vaudeville in New York City.[2] Hoping to draw a potential audience from female and family-based shopping traffic uptown, Pastor barred the sale of liquor in his theatres, eliminated bawdy material from his shows, and offered gifts of coal and hams to attendees. Pastor’s experiment proved successful, and other managers soon followed suit.


                  If you read the autobiography Harpo Speaks, In talking about he and his brothers time in vaudeville, he has list of words that were forbidden to be used onstage, like swell, lousy, or rotten.

                • Hogan says:

                  Mothers of River City!
                  Heed that warning before it’s too late!
                  Watch for the tell-tale sign of corruption!
                  The minute your son leaves the house,
                  Does he rebuckle his knickerbockers below the knee?
                  Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger?
                  A dime novel hidden in the corn crib?
                  Is he starting to memorize jokes from Capt.
                  Billy’s Whiz Bang?
                  Are certain words creeping into his conversation?
                  Words like, like “swell”?
                  And “so’s your old man”?
                  Well, if so my friends,
                  Ya got trouble!

              • corporatecake says:

                The problem in cases of freaking out over not getting a response in 30 seconds isn’t technology, it’s an asshole. Everyone with any sense and manners knows there’s a thousand reasons someone might take a while to respond.

  7. Woodrowfan says:

    The X-Files would have been very different with cell phones. (and you know Buffy would have had an episode with a demon-infested phone app)

  8. C.V. Danes says:

    So who could really blame creator Jennifer Saunders for failing to recognize where mobile phone technology might go?

    Or, perhaps, she was spot on, and we would all be a lot better off if we tossed our smart phones in the trash.

  9. Merkwürdigliebe says:

    Well, her life was already pretty horrible but the device ends up becoming a total nuisance and she throws it out the window.

    Is it possible that the incident got spoofed in Terry Pratchett’s Jingo!, with the demonic organizer Vimes receives and then throws away?

    • JonH says:

      I was going to mention Jingo as well. Is it possible that there was a particularly unpleasant digital organizer on the market in the UK in the mid-90s?

      Perhaps the Psion series 3?

  10. Peterr says:

    I stumbled across an episode of Hogan’s Heroes the other day. In the Trump era, it has a different vibe to it . . . Col. Klink running the best, most fantastic, and incredible prison camp ever, the Gestapo running around, sometimes ordering Klink to do X and sometimes having to defer to him; pretty women distracting Klink with very little problem; etc.

    • NonyNony says:

      Comparing Trump to Klink is really unfair to Klink. Sure he’s incompetent, but he’s more of a Peter-principle type of incompetence than the child-of-privilege incompetence we see with Trump.

      (Hogan’s Heroes is a really weird show. I’ve been watching it quite a bit because its in reruns on the local MeTV affiliate. I remember watching it in syndication as a kid but as an adult I’m struck by just how strange the fact that it got made is.)

      • Aimai says:

        Yes, Klink had moments of humanity and awareness. He is totally not a Trump like figure.

        On this topic of historical avatars and stereotypes my daughter just sent me a description of a spanish film about losing the philippines to the US.

        It really had everything.  The brave captain who saves his last cigars to give to the soldiers at christmas, the military doctor who just wants to study plants, the comic relief fat soldier who only wants to look at pictures of women, the traitorous Filipino bar tender (in yellow face naturally, with his hair slicked down to make him look vaguely asian), the beautiful Filipino maiden (also yellow face with eyes made up) in love with a Spanish soldier who represents the true love of the Philippines for the Spanish, the creepy Filipino soldiers who lear at her and mistreat her.  It was so exactly what it was.  I mean Jesus Christ!
        It was funny in that one could guess every second of it before it happened.

      • Joe_JP says:

        Hogan’s Heroes is a really weird show. I’ve been watching it quite a bit because its in reruns on the local MeTV affiliate.

        Yes, I get it via MeTV too. The black member of the team, somewhat coincidentally [?] like Uhura in charge of communications, is pretty notable for the 1960s. He’s the most serious of Hogan’s team and read one place he was in effect the second in command.

        The basic weird thing for me is the language issue where the whole team speaks German, well enough to pretend to be German officers etc. Without their accents exposing them. Of course, perhaps they were purposely picked for that, but still. Quite talented.

        • Aimai says:

          Kinchloe, I had a huge crush on him when I watched that show as a little girl. There’s an episode in which he beats a white german soldier at boxing–news which the germans suppress out of racism that reminds me of the 1936 olympics. He also starred in a brilliant African American film called “Nothing but a man.” He seems to have been a director, too. Fascinating guy.

          • Bill Murray says:

            I liked Kinch as a character, but could never figure how he could go on missions. Were their black Wehrmacht soldiers? I would have thought very few

            • Joe_JP says:

              A couple times at least there were opportunities for him to be out in the open, such as an African prince, but mostly he kept out of sight outside camp.

        • The Dark God of Time says:

          German, aside from the “och” sound produced in the throat, doesn’t require any sounds not used in English, but the grammar is the hardest part to master. IRL, anyone suspected of being an Allied spy would be interrogated in very complex German sentences that would be confusing to anyone who didn’t speak German as a native tongue.

          Also, up until WWI, German was spoken by immigrants and their descendants in America quite openly. Finding native speakers to teach them wouldn’t have been that hard to do back then.

      • JonH says:

        “I remember watching it in syndication as a kid but as an adult I’m struck by just how strange the fact that it got made is”

        Especially since many of the cast served in the US military in WW2, were refugees from Nazi Germany, and/or lost family in the camps, or had been in concentration camps themselves.

    • C.V. Danes says:

      It wasn’t a prison camp, though. It was a prison center.

  11. LeeEsq says:

    What I don’t miss is necessarily the technology but part of me thinks that we might have a better work life balance if the concept of office clothing still existed. During my kid or teen years, most offices still required people to dress up for work rather than dress casually or semi-casually. Some work places still requires this. I wonder if using dress to establish a firmer separation between work and not work time might be psychologically beneficially for people.

    • Woodrowfan says:

      you may have a point. I dress “business casual” for work, one of the few that still do. (Someone recently mistook a casually-dressing colleague of mine for a homeless person on campus!) When I get home it’s a casual shirt and jeans! of course I still work until 10 each night, but I am dressed more comfortably!

      Seriously, I do think you have a good point about work invading home life.

      • mmy says:

        I am old enough to have worked under those dress codes and they worked 1) to force women to spend an inordinate amount of our pay cheques on acceptable clothing and 2) to enforce gender norms through clothing.

        In other words I don’t recall with fondness having to wear panty hose on stiflingly hot days. I don’t recall with fondness having to buy clothes I didn’t like but which fit the parameters of the office where I worked. I didn’t like having to wear caridgans over my summer clothes inside the the office or else freeze in the air conditioning (which was set for the comfort of men wearing suits).

        • Woodrowfan says:

          How much of that still applies? I strongly suspect it varies from workplace to workplace. (an acquaintance at a big law-firm in DC wears expensive business woman’s suits to work. But with her paycheck she can afford it. My wife dresses for her office (a federal agency) but I don’t remember the last time she wore panty hose. The female profs at my university tend to dress better than the male profs.

          • C.V. Danes says:

            My experience at a college where I used to work was the exact opposite. The range of acceptable clothing for women was much broader than for the men, which was shirt, tie, and slacks, or a suit. I remember many times sweating my ass off in the summer wishing I could get away with the male equivalent of a nice blouse :-)

          • Aimai says:

            The female profs have to dress better than the male profs, and its quite expensive to do it. What reads as “too important to care” in men reads as “low class, probably cleaning lady” in older women.

            • Woodrowfan says:

              true. Of course the profs in the fashion department dress well anyway. Many of the female profs also dress causally, but (as you noted) it’s a nicer casual than some of the men get away with.

          • NewishLawyer says:

            I think the East Coast and Midwest are probably still a lot more formal than the Mountain West and West Coast.

            The only times I see people were suits on the West Coast are:

            1. Lawyers in Court;

            2. Going to a fancy event;

            3. Sales people at fancy department stores like Neiman Marcus and Barney’s.

            I’ve had law firms in SF be okay with me wearing sneakers and jeans and a t-shirt as long as I was Court ready with a suit in the office. A lot of firms in the East Coast and Midwest are still suit and tie all the time.

            Though my first job had jeans Friday and had to impose it by revolt from bellow because the managing partner hated it.

            • Crusty says:

              I think most (many?) traditional East Coast employers (what I really mean is the law firms I’ve worked at) have gone back to suits Monday through thursday, business casual on Friday.

              I recall back when the east coast succumbed to casual all the time to try to be like Silicon Valley startups, but as a litigator I needed to have a suit ready to go if necessary. It was a giant pain in the ass. It wasn’t as simple as just having a suit hanging on the back of the door. There are different shirts, accessories, shoes, etc., that go with the suit.

              • Srsly Dad Y says:

                I remember an older litigator telling me about the days before widespread (or good?) air conditioning in DC. He claimed that in the summer, “We used to have one suit jacket in the office, medium size, that anyone could wear if he got called into court.” Well, you guys were massive dorks then.

                • los says:

                  one suit jacket in the office, medium size, that anyone could wear if he got called into court

                  that’s an unusual way to filter job applicants
                  not very EOE

          • los says:

            expensive business woman’s suits


            (also drycleaning expenses)

        • Dennis Orphen says:

          A good friend was the maintenence supervisor of a large office building directly across the street from the state capitol building. He was constantly trapped between the complaints of the men, who were two warm (2 and 3 piece suits) and the women (freezing in their skimpy clothes).

        • LeeEsq says:

          Suits, dress shirts, shoes, ties, and socks are not exactly cheap and get very uncomfortable on hot summer days to. Even in suits designed for summer wear will end up causing you to sweat a lot.

          • nixnutz says:

            One of the main things, top three maybe, that I miss about San Francisco is that you could wear wool comfortably all year.

            I remember when casual Fridays came in, or when I experienced it for the first time, and it was kind of a pain in the ass. I had already bought a few suits, on my days off I wore jeans and t-shirts, I didn’t relish the opportunity to buy a bunch of khakis and polo shirts. Work casual does save money on dry cleaning but it’s not an area where I’m really comfortable.

            Although I really have no idea what it means for women, at least outside of the few places women still wear suits regularly I couldn’t tell the difference between business formal and business casual. I do know they have to spend more and put a lot more work and thought into it, and pay a whopping tax at the dry cleaners for no good reason. I’m sure for some the larger range of choice is nice but I would hate it, I’d be glad to go back to a suit and tie so I don’t have to spend any time thinking about my work wardrobe.

      • rea says:

        I once visited the state law library (then in the same building as the state supreme court) casually dressed and was asked by a justice to clean the bathroom.

    • C.V. Danes says:

      What I don’t miss is necessarily the technology but part of me thinks that we might have a better work life balance if the concept of office clothing still existed.

      Not just clothing, but time. Young(er) people don’t seem to have a clear barrier between ‘office time’ and ‘home time.’ Perhaps they can deal with that, but I personally need to have a clear separation between the two.

      • When the older generation gives people in my age bracket an actual chance at working at a livable wage, then we can have a nice conversation about appropriate work wear.

        The one year I worked in a woman-run business in the finance industry was pretty good though. The month of August was “dress for your day”, meaning if you didn’t have to meet with a client you could wear shorts to work. But also, people got paid enough to put their paychecks into their wardrobe.

        • C.V. Danes says:

          The one year I worked in a woman-run business in the finance industry was pretty good though. The month of August was “dress for your day”, meaning if you didn’t have to meet with a client you could wear shorts to work. But also, people got paid enough to put their paychecks into their wardrobe.

          Sounds like a good policy to me!

      • wjts says:

        Yeah, I think the real problem is the idea that employees should be expected to respond to calls or emails at any time because they always have a phone with them, not dress codes.

        • Crusty says:

          Most definitely.

          I’ve discussed this with friends- some take the view that the smartphone allows them to leave the office. I’m of the view that it means you’re never gone, even when you are. Its really a mental thing you have to master.

        • MAJeff says:


          I actually refuse to check my email after I leave the office for the day/week, and I won’t install it on my phone.

          Work duties may sometimes invade my home space, which I’m generally ok with given the portability of academic work, but I also insist on time that my employer does not have access to. I am not available 24-7, and I refuse to be.

          I also refuse to give students my cell number. Hell, no, you may not text me!

          • rhino says:

            In plumbing school, one of the best instructors set up a Facebook page for his class. That way he had a method by which students could contact him and ask questions without being able to interrupt his private life. He would just check the page periodically, and answer questions as appropriate on his own schedule and convenience.

            All of his students found it super useful, in fact we continued using the page for a year or so (until he retired) as a way to ask code questions while at work. I can recall a couple of puzzles that got solved largely because of that Facebook page.

            Nowadays I use a reddit sub called ‘r/plumbing’ for the same purpose. it’s about half posts from plumbers, half from civilians looking for advice. It’s saved my ass a couple of times.

            Modern tech is really awesome, in a lot of ways.

        • NewishLawyer says:

          True but I think it is a message that a lot of people take on early. I’ve been hearing people describe themselves as “work hard, play hard*” since I was a freshman in college. Most of these people end up climbing the corporate hierarchy very well.

          I stay late at work and work on the weekends and can stay up for deadlines but some people just seem able to do the come in early and stay really late thing consistently. I’ve seen dumb mistakes happen because of a lack of sleep but it seems like a Sisyphean task to convince people that “The silly mistake you just made is because you aren’t getting enough sleep.”

          *Work hard, play hard seems to mean that you work long hours and then go to loud bars or clubbing as your play time along with lots of drinking and possibly other substances ingested or you do serious gyming and sportsing at 9 at night.

      • veleda_k says:

        That could be because our (largely older bosses) expect us to be on call every second of the day.

  12. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Slightly OT, but AbFab is one of those pieces of culture I just don’t get. Large numbers of people whose taste in things I usually share love it, so I assume that I’m the problem here. But I find it completely unfunny.

    • wjts says:

      You’re not alone.

      • Woodrowfan says:

        same here. But then, I thought Seinfeld was unfunny as well. I thought all four main characters were total jerks.

        • Dennis Orphen says:

          Agreed on the jerks thing. If I don’t want people like that in my life, why would I want them in my living room? Same with The Office, and that’s like being at a crappy job too.

          • Adam The K says:

            If I don’t want people like that in my life, why would I want them in my living room?

            Different strokes for different folks of course, but isn’t one man’s jerk another another man’s antihero? I certainly wouldn’t want to have Al Swearengen or David Brent in my life but that doesn’t stop them from being compelling characters to watch.

            • Dennis Orphen says:

              You hoople heads just have to go muddying the waters, don’t you?

            • This is one of the big differences between American and British TV. The evolution of the David Brent character is a great illustration. Ricky Gervais was integral to the development of both.

              The British generally don’t need heroes in their comedy. Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, etc all did very well. AbFab I believe was the first successful comedy to let women be antiheroes.

              • Aimai says:

                Right–Patsy is an antihero of amazing proportions for a woman. And especially for a beautiful woman. I love to see her vulgarity, her pratfalls and her fuck you attitude towards everything. What might be ho-hum in a male character is ground breaking for Joanna Lumley. And ditto for Jennifer Saunders character. They are selfish in a way that few women are allowed to be selfish without being the villains of the story set over and against the innocent heroes and heroines. But in abfab the monsters of selfishness and absurdity are the heroines. We root for them even as we cringe at their awfulness–both were treated horribly by their parents, their schools, and their lives and responded by becoming monsters. The backstory is there, if you look for it.

              • LeeEsq says:

                I think that this is because British TV shows tend to last a shorter period of time. When you are only spending a few episodes with characters, you don’t need to like them. When you are spending many years with them, you need to like them. Long lasting British shows tend to have much more likeable characters.

    • Dennis Orphen says:

      That’s how I feel about Seinfeld. I think Seinfeld’s merits are that it shows how more people really began living since the development of the TV sitcom in the 50s, single, childless and urban. Same for Friends (which do I find more entertaining than Seinfeld, although both shows certainly have their merits).

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      (For the record, I love Seinfeld.)

    • Aimai says:

      I watched AbFab while nursing my first child. I found it, and still find it, incredibly funny. My husband and I often shout “Bubble, I’m here!” on our phones as we are walking into the house, in memory of Jennifer Saunders doing so with her personal assistant. The humor is very british (and very seinfelidian) in that there is no hugging, growing, or learning for these characters. They are trapped in their awful selfishness–even the daughter, Saffy, who in an american sit com would be the viewer’s surrogate/a good person is awful in her own way.

      • kvs says:

        Yeah, it’s definitely a brand of comedy about laughing at awful people being awful. It’s intellectual, rather than emotional comedy. If there was anything significantly sympathetic or empathetic, it would get in the way of laughter because instead of thinking about how funny the characters and situations are, we’d be feeling how awful all of it is.

        That arguably makes it conservative humor. If we can laugh at those things, we don’t have to change them.

        Chris Rock having the opposite effect by deliberately making the audience uncomfortable at the Oscars shows how it all works.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Funny thing is that, unlike some others in this subthread, I generally like that brand of comedy. I love Fawlty Towers, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margret, The Office, Seinfeld, Arrested Development, and so forth. So I generally enjoy watching awful people being being awful,for laughs.

        • Origami Isopod says:

          That arguably makes it conservative humor. If we can laugh at those things, we don’t have to change them.

          Except, you know, the context is that it’s a pair of women being awful, and funny. Which you almost never see on U.S. TV, because women are the moral guardians of the species.

          Anyway, I don’t need all my entertainment to teach me a lesson. AbFab didn’t have Very Special Episodes, and I liked that about it.

      • njorl says:

        “Bubble, I’m here!”

        Yes, it’s important to get Bubble’s name right (no “s” at the end). Anybody can be named “Bubbles”.

    • LeeEsq says:

      Same here. I never found Ab Fab funny and or easy to look at visually.

    • wca says:

      Large numbers of people whose taste in things I usually share love it, so I assume that I’m the problem here. But I find it completely unfunny.

      Like someone else said, it’s tedious to watch for the same reasons Seinfeld and The Office are. There’s only so much watching of self-absorbed asses that one can reasonably be expected to do.

      It’s the same reason I can’t watch “reality” shows…

      • nixnutz says:

        I loved Seinfeld, I love You’re the Worst, Broad City, Peep Show, pretty sure I’d like Always Sunny, I also liked Jennifer Saunders in French & Saunders. I don’t really know why AbFab didn’t work for me, maybe the tone, maybe just the writing, maybe I couldn’t relate to the characters when I was younger. But it wasn’t that it was a sitcom about awful people, I love those.

        • LeeEsq says:

          It could be the production values. It was less polished than Seinfeld in appearance.

          • Mr_Neutron says:

            To me a show like AbFab tends to be much easier on the eyes than Seinfeld. British TV tends to film far more on location, so you have fewer studio bound scenes. And even when a scene is shot on a set, it tends to look more real and less garish than one in a 90s American sitcom.

            Absolutely Fabulous is a wonderful character study of ludicrously privileged people living in a bubble of suffocating self-absorption. The later seasons are much less funny than the first three, but in its prime the show was a razor-sharp satire on 60s/babyboomer nostalgia and the 90s media scene. My choice for the best episode is “Death”—I’ll never hear the phrase “but is it art?” again without giggling.

        • Ronan says:

          I didn’t like a lot of that eras English comedy for some reason ; the fast show, red dwarf, birds of a feather, anything with rick mayall , only fools and horses etc. I like some of the stuff out of England now a bit more, but still think it’s mostly overrated(the office certainly. Peep show was genuinely hilarious for the first few seasons)
          On the other Hand I generally liked “comparable” shows out of the US. I think lee might be right it’s partly production values (and the fact English comedy was generally depressing as hell.)

          • wjts says:

            I loved Red Dwarf when I was in high school and college. Going back to it a few years ago, it didn’t hold up all that well. And as for Rik Mayall, I was the only one in my group of friends who thought The Young Ones was at best fitfully amusing rather than an outright masterpiece.

            • Dennis Orphen says:

              Back in my day, MTV aired The Young Ones on Sunday nights so it dovetailed nicely with slowing our rolls if nothing else. Then you watched Dr. Who on WTTW (Chicago’s analog channel 11).

        • Origami Isopod says:

          I haven’t watched much TV in recent years, but I really liked AbFab while I disliked Seinfeld. There was a smug “Aren’t we clever” vibe to the latter that, in addition to the grating personalities, turned me off. Whereas Eddie and Patsy were unapologetic messes who gave no fucks.

        • TopsyJane says:

          Seinfeld maintained an incredibly high level of quality for almost a decade and it went out at the top of the ratings, although not at the peak of its quality. Latterly the characters did get more tiresome than they were intended to be and the shows seemed to be much more alike, but it was still a fine show. I wasn’t a huge fan at the time, but Seinfeld has shown incredible staying power and deservedly so.

          I could only take AbFab in small doses, but it was nice of them to choose the great “This Wheel’s on Fire” for a theme song, which sent much-needed royalties to the late Rick Danko, who co-wrote the song with Whatshisface.

    • NewishLawyer says:

      Yep. And I sympathized with the nerdy daughter.

  13. cleek says:

    we just finished our second run through The Tudors.

    it made me wish we had no indoor plumbing, safe drinking water, vaccines or antibiotics.

    • Aimai says:

      You mean right now? Like: it made you long for death?

      • LeeEsq says:

        I wouldn’t like to live in the past full time but if they ever develop time travel, I think bumming around in the early 1890s would be fascinating. Against all my better instincts and knowledge, I have a strange fascination for the 1890s.

        • Woodrowfan says:

          I tell my students that. As a historian I would dearly LOVE to visit the 1910s. Catch a vaudeville show, see one of the lost silents, visit Coney Island, go see the Reds play, visit a saloon, etc. But there is no way I am living anywhere without modern flush toilets, antibiotics, and air conditioning.

          • wca says:

            But there is no way I am living anywhere without modern flush toilets, antibiotics, and air conditioning.

            When I was very young, I asked my grandmother if she ever longed for the “good old days” when she was a kid. “Hell, no!” she said. The reason was that living in the South with no air conditioning or indoor plumbing was terrible.

          • LeeEsq says:

            Ride the early subway.

          • bender says:

            1905-1915 is my utter favorite for architecture, women’s clothing, art and the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Science and classical music were pretty interesting. Awful racial ideas, prudish, almost as busy driving animals to extinction as now and very bad medical care if you were a woman. Visit, not live there. I am glad that so much of their material culture and thought is still around.

        • The Dark God of Time says:

          Cedric Hardwick said he’d be glad to relive the Victorian Era, but with antibiotics. For his generation and my grandparents’ generation they were truly miracle drugs.

        • JonH says:

          There’s a place in Denmark where you can experience life in a paleolithic village. At the end of the week someone gets sacrificed to the bog.

          The BBC’s Mel Giedroyc (of the Great British Bake-Off) spent a week there with a British family. It’s kind of creepy hearing English children talking about how they are excited for the sacrifice.

          (Radio program, streamable from anywhere.)

  14. keta says:

    Pfft. Television as a technology is ridiculous.

    Give me the days when a young man was sent to Abyssinia with nothing more than a supply of cleft sticks.

  15. GeorgeBurnsWasRight says:

    I always laugh when a show comes on where they’re using a mobile phone about the size of a brick.

    • Aimai says:

      I”m binge watching Grey’s Anatomy to avoid doing work right now and in the early stages of the show they all have beepers and those tiny little phones that don’t let you text. By this season everyone has smart phones and tracking other people, and contacting other people, has become more of a focus of some of the plot lines. One of the things that has really seamlessly integrated into our lives is the ability to google information, even high level medical information, at the tap of a finger. It makes “not knowing X” harder for people to turn a plot around.

      I just had a three D dental x ray and I commented on the mental foramen which is the hole that runs through the jaw. The dentist gave me a description of what it was and what it was for but did not know why it was called the mental foramen. We ended up standing over his computer (I nearly pulled out my phone but felt it would be rude to check his work) and googling the term. Turns out its a ridiculous neologism–Latin for chin is mentum and a backformation turns mentum into mental like a back formation turns dentum into dental.

      • wjts says:

        Learning anatomy becomes four or five times easier once you master the Greek and Latin etymologies. I’m surprised no one explained it to him earlier.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          Years ago taught a course in precisely this, for nursing students, pre-meds, public health majors, etc.

          Only book on the reading list was Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary.

          Lots of fun. I went to the clinic at the university with an rash of unknown origin, all over the place. They ran tests on me and told me ‘It’s ideopathic atopic dermatitis.’ I told them ‘I hope those tests weren’t too expensive, but I teach Greek, and I’d have told you that yesterday for free’.

          • rhino says:

            The main point of medical language was originally to fool the patient into believing the doctors knew what was going on. It’s less true since medicine became more scientific, but literature is full of doctors speaking medicalese simply to impress patients for a reason.

      • kvs says:

        It’s amazing how knowing how to find things has increased in relative importance compared to knowing things.

        • Dennis Orphen says:

          And knowing what to look for, what the right questions to ask are.

          • rhino says:

            I tell my plumbing apprentices not to try and memorize the code book and the plans, but rather to load both onto their iPhone, and to look shit up when they need it.

            At least once a day, I find myself on a manufacturers website looking at an exploded view of something I have never installed, or finding the dimensions of something so the rough-in is correct the first time.

            I would imagine I’ve saved hundreds of hours of rework by now… Yet the foreman still likes to yell at anyone with their phone out at work, presumably because the only thing we could possibly be doing is texting our friends or looking at porn. I’ve taken to emailing him links and/or screenshots of the stuff we look up ‘so he has access to the info we used to make the decision and can comment if he needs to’. Shuts *some* of it up.

        • Hogan says:

          We are all librarians now.

    • jim, some guy in iowa says:

      anyone else remember back in the 70s when William Conrad was “Cannon”? Quinn Martin Productions must have had a sweet deal with Ford, because they always drove huge freaking Mercurys, etc. Cannon had a LTD with a car phone on the seat beside him that looked just like our black Bell dial telephone. Very cutting edge

      the only other thing I remember about Cannon was a fight scene on a beach where Cannon subdues one of the bad guys, and just as he sticks said baddie’s handgun in his waistband another gun is fired off-camera. It seemed like such an obvious joke to a seven year old that I still wonder how it got on the air

      • The Dark God of Time says:

        Quinn Martin had previously produced The FBI TeeVee show, whose dependence on Ford vehicles was famously satirized in Mad Magazine.

        Even earlier, Paul Drake in the Perry Mason show had a car telephone, which used ship-to-shore technology IIRC.

  16. Davis X. Machina says:

    My wife and I have a game dating various Law and Order franchise episodes based on the phones — either for evidence, or to call someone, or finally with texting as an issue.

    There’s a clear progression from trying to find a payphone, to candy bars, to flip-phones, to the more contemporary ones.

    Also toll-transponder records.

  17. osceola says:

    I watch Rockford Files reruns when I can. In one episode, he’s talking with a big shot lawyer, and you can tell he’s important because he’s got a pager on his belt that’s about a five-inch box. (Late’70s when pagers first came out and were a big deal.)

    And then, of course, the opening of the show when his answering machine is featured. Those messages were part of the show’s humor.

    • Dennis Orphen says:

      Fargas is the De Niro of the counterculture, Margolin the Olivier.

    • wjts says:

      A recent bar trivia “Name That Tune” round used The Rockford Files theme for a question. We missed it, but in our defense they left off the answering machine message.

    • Joe_JP says:

      It’s weird to see some technology on certain shows like car phones and a primitive tv remote control device (both in the 1960s) that today seems anachronisms.

      And, people being able in a minute to get information online. Those old shows where we get a little review of the information on such and such a person … which in the past would be pretty hard to get with photos and all … is a lot easier today especially with cell phone cameras etc.

      • osceola says:

        I remember a Hawaii Five-O (the original: Jack Lord, accept no substitutes) in which a fax was hyped as the latest crimefighting technology because they could get a mug shot from another state in 15 minutes.

      • John F says:

        The X-Files was the first show I recall watching where characters used cell phones ALL THE TIME, and if you watch re-runs- they didn’t use them all that much and the phones look cartoonishly large.

        Also there is a scene in 2001 (filmed in 1969) that had tablet computers… (props not actual working tablet computers but still)

  18. swkellogg says:

    I really miss the older time machines like the ones used in “The Time Tunnel” (which were all destroyed during the Nixon administration). The new ones are shoddily made, break down all the time and getting parts aftermarket is virtually impossible.

    • wjts says:

      It’s kind of astonishing that in the late 1960s time machines took up an entire room but only 15 years later they were small enough to fit in your pocket.

      • swkellogg says:

        Well yeah, they are a lot more compact, no small thanks to the reduction of interocitor size through increased use of solid-state technology. Still, sometimes smaller isn’t better. I find the devices that rely on older, bulkier vacuum/gas-discharge tubes make for a smoother negative time dilating experience (particularly when the krytrons are connected in series rather than parallel). Contrast that with the greater tendency to experience cross-dimensional interference, due to rectification by low-voltage diode junctions or slew-rate effects that one frequently endures in the transistorized models and I think you’ll see where I’m coming from.

        I mean, really, who wants to be chased by a ravenous, drooling t-rex, when all you really wanted to do was burn one with neanderthals?

  19. veleda_k says:

    When I see people blaming smart phones for all our woes I end up thinking, “Blah blah blah technology is bad, fire is scary, and Thomas Edison was a witch.” Maybe other people hate having a map of the city in their pocket that will give them step by step instructions on how to get to that job interview on time, or being able to call for help stranded in an area with nary a pay phone in sight, but I sure don’t. (And I didn’t get a cell phone until four years ago, way after everyone else had one. I had weird notions of self-sufficiency.)

    Also, the youth of today! They are not like the youth of my time! What’s up with that!

    • osceola says:

      I didn’t get a cell phone until four years ago, way after everyone else had one.

      Not so fast there. I’m still a holdout.

      • I wish I could post images but there’s a great XKCD cartoon about a checklist for any new technology.

        “Will teens use [blank] for sex? Yes.

        Were they going to have sex anyway? Yes.”

        That”blank” works great with automobiles and cell phones.

        • Dennis Orphen says:

          Then you get to a point where the teens and the ‘adults’ they might become can’t do ‘blank’ without ‘blank’ and the reverse Darwinism starts going full Kornbluth.

        • Aimai says:

          If you know anything about history you can even fill in the blank with words like “literacy.”

          Will teens use literacy for sex? Yes

          • Dennis Orphen says:

            I don’t claim to be an A student, but what a wonderful world that would be.

            • No joke, a good portion of what I learned about human sexuality as a junior in high school came from IB English. This was in South Florida and our teachers put a lot of Latin American literature on our reading list. So in one semester I read House of the Spirits and Like Water for Chocolate and my mother was scandalized.

              So yes, literacy was definitely a part of sex for Miami IB students!

              • Dennis Orphen says:

                Around 7th grade, I began to twig that something was up with the concept of ‘sex’. So, I went to the room in the house where all the books were shelved, pulled the ‘S’ volume of the encylopedia off the shelf, and read the entry for ‘sex’. In about 7 minutes I knew more about the mechanical and reproductive aspects of the subject than far too many people ever learn in their entire lifetime, often (if not always) to their frustration, anger, chagrin and regret.

                A few years later, when it was time for my parents to give me ‘the talk’, I told them exactly what I just wrote above. We looked at each other, exchanged that era’s equivalents of bro nods and ‘we’re goods!’ and that was that.

                So, I can totally relate the the comments about plumbers using cel phones and the like.

          • The Dark God of Time says:

            But the thing that really concerned men was the fact that women were using bicycles just as much as they were. While most moral prognosticators could just about deal with guys taking to this new, slightly risque hobby, women doing it was too much for some people.

            Doctors in particular were very concerned. Even the ones who acknowledged that some exercise was good for ladies made it clear that there were strict limitations on what they could safely do on a bike. Obviously, they would need a man to go with them for protection. They should never travel too far or put any strain on their bodies, or else they might end up with “bicycle face,” a tired, haggard look that made them much less attractive to potential husbands. Clearly, cycling while pregnant was out, and while menstruating, and just to be safe all women should have a gynecological exam before getting on a bike for the first time. One doctor was sure that thousands of women were actually allowing themselves to get to the verge of death due to cycling-related health issues, simply because women refused to talk to doctors in case their beloved bikes were taken away.


  20. CHD says:

    Douglas Adams absolutely nailed the direction of technology in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not only the Guide itself… everytime I am on an automated phone system, I think of Real People Personalities (installed in doors by Cirius Cybenetics Corporation).
    Also go read the series of essays Adams wrote, published posthumously in The Salmon of Doubt. He predicted the ubiquity and usefulness of smartphones way before it happened, and I might add, without predicting anything that​ didn’t happen. (If you make enough bizarre predictions one of them is bound to come true; it’s much harder to make only accurate predictions.)

  21. Crusty says:

    It seemed like there was a period in the early 2000’s or maybe even late 90’s where movie studios tried to make some computer based thrillers and the climactic final scene might involve someone typing on a keyboard and praying something finishes downloading to a disc, or uploading to the internet, as the bad guys tried to break down the door, kill the power or wipe the hard drive or something like that. It never quite worked. That sort of thing seems to have gotten better as computers have become more seamlessly integrated into our lives.

  22. Dagmar says:

    I remember in the late 70s and in the 80s when computer technology developments were touted as “labor-saving”, giving all us worker bees shorter work days and more leisure time.

  23. Dennis Orphen says:

    This comment is being written by typing on a supposedly obsolete Palm Pilot branded bluetooth folding keyboard paired to an android phone. It’s the best bluetooth portable keyboard I’ve ever used, and it cost me almost nothing because ‘Palm Pilots are obsolete’ supposedly.

    It even had a pull-out stand to lean the palm pilot on which also works for a phone. When I use it in public, say at a coffee shop, people come over and comment on how cool it is.

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