Girls on Top was an early collaboration between four of the most influential
women in television comedy of the last twenty years - Dawn French played Amanda
Ripley, a dour and serious feminist journalist for 'Spare Cheeks' magazine;
Jennifer Saunders was Jennifer Marsh, a slow-witted hanger-on constantly bullied
by Amanda; Tracey Ullman was airhead hypochondriac bimbo Candice Valentine;
while Ruby Wax was brash and pushy unemployed American actress Shelley Dupont.
The show also featured Joan Greenwood as their landlady, Lady Carlton, a
romantic novelist who kept a stuffed dog named Josephine. By the second series
Ullman had departed to pursue her career in the US, and Candice was killed off.
Saunders was pleasingly deadpan in her delivery but was largely wasted,
playing second fiddle to French, who had all the good (albeit few) one-liners.
Ullman's performance was strong but her character was weak and not greatly
missed in the second series. Wax was characteristically gregarious, over-the-top
and attention seeking, and this was sometimes detrimental to the effectiveness
of the show's humour. Despite the flaws of the individual characters, however,
the ensemble somehow worked, and the collaboration between the women was the
show's greatest strength.
Girls on Top has been seen as a female version of The Young Ones (BBC,
1982-1984), and that show's influence is certainly evident. It even poaches the ending of its predecessor, when all the characters are killed off in the final episode. Despite this, and the involvement of Ben Elton, it owed less to The Young Ones than to the 1970s female flat-share sitcom The Liver Birds (BBC 1969-1979; 1996), notable for its woman writer (Carla Lane) and for it's recognition of a
female audience for TV comedy.
Neither the best nor the most successful project of anyone involved, Girls on Top remains interesting as an example of the early work of French and Saunders, Wax and Ullman, and for its unique status as a collaboration between four such
high profile comediennes.