Dir: Ed Bye
UK: 30 min • Brown Eyed Boy & Kudos Film and Television for ITV • April 29 2013
Tim Bennett-Goodman reviews
Comedy? The writers may be having a laugh but I certainly wasn’t.
What on earth possessed two great knights of stage and screen, Sir Ian ‘Serena’ McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi, as well as the fragrant Frances de la Tour, to take part in this feeble farrago of a so-called sitcom? Surely it can’t have been for the money or the publicity. Boredom perhaps, or a sense of mischief? Either way, their participation was sadly ill-advised.
Maybe I’ve had a humour by-pass but when the trailers failed to entice me alarm bells rang. However, I found myself watching it (mostly through the cracks in my fingers) because ‘she who must be obeyed’ wanted to see it – and obviously found it hilarious, so perhaps it is just me after all (no, it isn’t, it really isn’t!).
Vicious (original working title Vicious Old Queens) is the brainchild of Will & Grace writer, Gary Janetti, and award-winning playwright, Mark Ravenhill, both of whose talents could have been put to much better use.
The scenario is the fractious relationship between Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (Jacobi), two old queens who have lived together in a Dantean circle of hell for 50 years. Their friend Violet (de la Tour) regularly drops by, as does their new upstairs neighbour, straight (and young) Ash (played by Iwan Rheon). Also dropping by are Penelope and Mason (played by Marcia Warren and Philip Voss respectively). A running gag is Stuart’s mother, always on the phone, who apparently remains unaware of the nature of her son’s life-long relationship with Freddie. Well, ha bloody ha!
Most British sitcoms in my opinion are pretty weak as a rule and this one is no exception, and not helped in the least by bringing in an American writer of a similarly puerile US sitcom, Will & Grace. Why do we feel the need to import rubbish when we produce so much of our own?
But while I can forgive lacklustre attempts at humour, what I find unforgivable is the betrayal of the gay community by such lamentable drivel, especially when, as in the case of Vicious, it panders to every tired old stereotype that I thought had been dispatched to well-deserved oblivion years ago. What makes it even more distasteful is the fact that McKellen has been a notable pioneering gay activist for decades, and Jacobi has long been out-and-proud. Why are they now selling their principles (and their community) down the river with this offensive tosh?
I suspect that this misguided project may backfire badly and my suspicion is that the only one to come out of it with a reputation if not exactly enhanced, then at least undiminished, is Frances de la Tour. (Although how she could bring herself to mouth the truly dreadful lines about the possibility of being raped is beyond me. Who in their right minds in this day and age thinks that rape is the stuff of hilarity?)
This is a deeply flawed enterprise and I shall certainly not be rushing to catch episode 2 (or the other 4). My one hope is that a second series will remain un-commissioned.