‘Vicious’ – Series 1, episode 1
SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen series 1, episode 1 of ‘Vicious’
I’ve settled in with a glass of red wine. The Tiffany lamp is on and I have a cushion hugged to my chest. This show looks like it’s going to be great. Sir Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi are two gay blokes who’ve been in a relationship for nearly 50 years. They’re a pair of bitchy but loveable old queens.
If the writer were Ben Elton I’d be worried, but the man behind this new ITV series is Gary Janetti, the Emmy nominated writer/producer behind hit shows Family Guy and Will & Grace. I’m salivating into my pinot. Here goes…weird title music. Nice, posh London house, cosy set… it begins.
“Oh my god, oh how dreadful!” Derek squeals down the phone with such a camp, overstated lisp and flutter I half expect him to split open and puff glitter onto the ceiling. Is his first line a hideous portent?
Derek has limply draped his wispy posterior onto a chair. The actor clumsily hits a prop cushion whilst attempting a fey gay hand waft, straight from the school of drag, circa 1973. A retake surely? Was filming rushed?
Sir Ian McKellan appears at the top of the stairs doing his best Larry Olivier impression. He is more Larry Grayson. Waspish, eye rolling, lisping Derek Jacobi is now perched on the sofa pretending to be Kenneth Williams; an act even Kenneth Williams couldn’t pull off half the time.
I’m a minute in and already I despair. They’re a gay couple who’ve been together for five decades and yet they sit at opposite ends of the sofa. Perhaps it’s too much for them to snuggle. Father might be sick. The children might be turned gay. Mother might write to the Daily Mail. Bodily contact might make these two cartoonish characters seem like actual gays rather than a pair of pantomime dames.
A young pan-faced man has arrived. His leather jacket tells me I should fancy him but I don’t. He looks like Matthew Horne who, in turn, looks like a watery-eyed fish. Oh and here’s Mrs Jones…I can’t look at Frances de la Tour’s face without thinking of rising damp. Wasn’t she in a sitcom with Leonard Rossiter?
Ah we have moved on to real comedy now! Frances de la Tour is worried she might be molested by the young man. Arf arf. I’m certain we are only an ad break away from something even more cringe-worthy. I am not enjoying this sitcom. My wine glass is empty and my cushion is on the floor.
By the way, my new boyfriend was in the live audience for the third episode and he told me that Ian and Derek struggled to remember their lines. Perhaps they couldn’t face subjecting themselves to the script more than once.
ADVERTS – more wine. Okay. Reset. It’ll improve.
The living room still. The action is entirely in one room so far. It’s a rich but gloomy set. They don’t like the curtains being opened. Is this an attempt at depth? Two men who have shut themselves off from the bright emancipation of gay London? Who cares, Frances de la Tour is saying something. No…no that wasn’t funny either.
Oh! An elderly lady has appeared. She’s funny. It transpires that this new character has been asleep during the conversation between Frances, Derek, Ian. For the first time, I laugh, but I’m not entirely certain the actress is joking.
I do keep wanting to smile, mind you. This sitcom is trying its level best to charm me and first episodes are always clumsy. The pilot for Will & Grace bears little relation to the brilliant, clownish joy of the later storylines, mainly because the writers shrewdly realised the comedic potential of Karen if she would only take her voice up a few notches. More of the sleepy old lady please! Less of Derek. What a slappable face.
I sip my wine and smile. The old lady has softened me. The lad I’m supposed to fancy has a tummy. I like him more. I find myself wondering if there’s anything wrong with portraying two absurd old gay men. Lord knows, they exist. Can comedy portray the hackneyed, obvious cliches and still be worthwhile? Am I warming to this programme? Not quite. It’s a Horlicks version of Gimme Gimme Gimme.
Oh damn it to hell, I’m laughing. Well…chuckling. It’s a cosy scene in the kitchen and I find myself hoping I’ll be like that one day. Old and ugly, bickering with someone I love. If the two of them actually manage to touch one another before the close of the episode, I’ll let it off the hook. At present they have an entire kitchen between them. Oh…now there is only a kitchen table. Might their fingers brush? Derek just touched Ian’s arm! Ah… the telephone. The British public have been saved by the bell. It’s Derek’s mum. He’s still pretending they’re just friends. They might as well be.
The episode ends and the characters have remained every bit as detached from one another as North and South Korea. Is it possible we will get all the way through an entire series about a snippy but nonetheless loving couple without once seeing them hold one another in their arms? A peck on the cheek perhaps? I suspect the obligatory distance will remain but still, the caution indicates that this sitcom is designed for the average family viewer, not gay people. That, in itself, is somewhat encouraging, right? You’d hope we might have moved a little further from Mr Humphries in 40 years. This fictional couple had already been together for a decade when that nonsense was on.
The titles have started. Not a single kiss, hug or believable moment between the two. What a queer programme. No in fact. It’s utterly un-queer and mostly unfunny. It may improve.
Follow Andy on Twitter @andywestradio
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