College Days and Nights of 2 Ladies
By ANITA GATES
Published: January 7, 2006
The first time I saw "Absolutely Fabulous," when Comedy Central imported it from Britain in 1994, I wondered what all the fuss was about. But the show grew on me, and today I am an ardent fan of Patsy Stone and Edina Monsoon, the dissolute, middle-aged Londoners whose enthusiastic substance abuse, rampant superficiality and desperate clinging to the values of their mod youth made that series so great.
If "Campus Ladies" is not America's answer to "Ab Fab," it comes close. The series, which has its premiere Sunday night on Oxygen, is often hilarious but it may be an acquired taste.
The two women whose adventures this show chronicles are 40-ish and American. When Joan (Carrie Aizley), a widow, and Barri (Christen Sussin) walk in on Barri's husband in bed with another woman, they head straight for a bar and some reassuring umbrella-in-the-glass drinks. Seeing a couple of pretty blond twins having a good time and toasting their sophomore year with friends, Joan and Barri are inspired. To spice up their boring lives, they'll go to college.
Their pal Gail (Jane Kaczmarek, the show's first guest star) thinks this is a terrible idea. "All they do in college is have sex over and over again," Ms. Kaczmarek says with the voice of authority that has made her the emotional center of Fox's long-running sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle."
Their normal-college-age roommate, Paige (Miranda Kent), is horrified to meet them. "No offense to the elderly or whatever," she says in extreme distress, babbling apologies as she rushes off to the housing office to ask for a room switch. (Housing says no.)
The sorority sisters at Gamma Delta Rho are equally appalled when the relentlessly cheerful older women turn up hoping to join their group. Joan and Barri don't understand half the younger women's questions, like "Lacto-ovo or vegan?" and "Jude or Johnny?"
The boys down the hall at the dorm, Drew (Derek Carter) and Abdul (Amir Talai), are much more welcoming. They invite Joan and Barri to a party, where the ladies enjoy Jell-O shots (unaware of the liquor involved), play spin the bottle and do some spontaneous making out with very young men.
Guy (Jonah Hill), the young residence counselor, embraces and defends Joan and Barri too. "You know who else didn't like to party with old people?" he says to Paige. "Adolf Hitler!"
In next week's episode, both women are picked up at a poetry bar - Barri by another guest star, Anthony Anderson, and Joan by Will Forte of "Saturday Night Live," playing a poet who finds her intriguing.
One of the major characters has sex in that episode, but off screen, and the indications that this is going on are absurdly good-natured. The closest thing to bawdy or raunchy in the episode is an observation that Mr. Anderson's character shares with Barri: "They say when a woman hits 40, she's the most orgasmic that she'll ever be."
And what a lovely fantasy for any woman who knows what cellulite looks like! These boys show no revulsion at the idea of getting naked with women who may be wrinkly or more than a little overweight or just not as taut as they used to be. (Compare, for instance, Jack Nicholson's character's reaction to seeing Diane Keaton's character nude in the film "Something's Gotta Give.") In fact, in keeping with scientific estimates of the average 19-year-old male's sex drive, the young men are quite eager.
Cheryl Hines, who plays Larry David's wife on HBO's mostly improvised series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is an executive producer of "Campus Ladies." Ms. Hines, who was once in the Groundlings comedy troupe with Ms. Sussin and Ms. Aizley, has said that the new show is largely improvised too.
I'd love to know who came up with one particular line in the premiere episode. Abdul, who is from Iran, doesn't offer to help with the women's heavy luggage at first but quickly realizes his error. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking," he says. "Back home, you would carry our bags."
Oxygen, Sunday nights at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.
Created by Carrie Aizley and Christen Sussin; Paul Young, Peter Principato and Cheryl Hines, executive producers; Richard G. King, supervising producer; E. Brian Dobbins, co-executive producer. Directed by David Steinberg.
WITH: Carrie Aizley (Joan), Christen Sussin (Barri), Derek Carter (Drew), Amir Talai (Abdul), Miranda Kent (Paige) and Jonah Hill (Guy).