‘Vicious’ – Series 1, episode 1

Andy West
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  • Arts
  • Last updated: Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 8:03 pm

vicious 300x225 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.

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  • PlasticBiddy

    Three pensioners in advanced old age leching after a young man, repulsive.

  • kernowjim

    Dreadful “comedy”.

  • Tamasin McGregor

    Ha ha ha! I loved reading this. I too had high hopes. I was even sucked in by the set, you have to admit the portholes set in the leather doors do have a ‘Fawlty Towers’ feel about them. Really, all that was missing was a Manuel.

  • watzat

    This not so much a review as Evil Eye where nothing in the show is allowed to have merit. The show is entirely stagey, surely intentionally so as its most distinctive feature is its assembling of the greatest quantity of British theatrical talent on the smallest square footage possible. This, its tone and the presence of the American writer strongly suggests that it is has been confected for the sensibilities of the American market, the set even appearing like a camp American take on the deep browns and deeper-buttoned leathers of the London club. Presumably for the same reason it was very clearly intended to be happy and entertaining rather than the slightest bit earnest (But would a gay couple who had been together for 50 years still be luvvy-duvvy any more than a straight couple?). The sight of two distinguished British Shakesperean luminaries themselves camping it up has a novelty value at a minimum. The elderly lady was Marcia Warren, a very distinguished and talented actress. It is in effect a televised first night of a stage show, before the process of learning from audience reaction. I found it funny and something of a privilege to watch such a great cast.

  • Chris Gill

    I’m looking forward to finding a first enthusiastic review for this. It made me happy. Granted, I am unusually forgiving of the broad, clumsy, linear, Britcom style, but surely this was intentionally and blissfully rolling around in that tradition, like a kitten in catnip? This is a comedy for all those who might have wondered what Julian and Sandy had been up to for the last few decades, or for those who were left hungering for more after Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Connor’s superb cameo turn in an episode from the third series of Blackadder, as powdered and bewigged, superstitious thesps, sent into pink paroxysms by Blackadder’s repeated use of the word ‘Macbeth’. Subtelty and realism aren’t part of the ambit, here. This is a glorious queen-fest, complete with pre-heated audience and pantomime staging. I loved it. (OK, I’m straight – so sue me).

  • Andy West

    Primary colours comedy is fine! But the jokes simply weren’t good enough. The script was lazy and the performances 2-dimensional…

  • Andy West

    I’m contacting my lawyer as we speak! :) I love Jules and Sandy but the double entendres etc here simply weren’t sharp enough.

  • Chris Hughes

    The sleeping woman – the very funny Marcia Warren.

  • Emily Thorne

    sigh, is it me or is comedy and drama becoming ever more separatist and segregated as in oh hey, here is an official sit-com for gay people? and it is reviewed in exactly that manner!
    ( like one really must be gay to watch it and/or understand it)


    & err, why wonder at the staginess and non-contact of an elderly gay couple from way back when all such public displays of affection were verboten and Brits were/are not particularly prone to them anyway;whether gay or not?

    this whole:here’s a special corner of the Indy/TV dramas just for You is slightly creepy and depressing to me since it operates on the equally sectarian principle
    (if that is a principle!) that:
    Oh dear, one must have role models to ‘inspire’ you and they must look exactly like you since one couldn’t possibly be inspired by anyone who looks or is a bit different than you! see?

  • watzat

    I think people make a category mistake over the show’s genre – it is mainly between farce and pantomime with the two leads rather like pantomime dames directing bitchy observations as much to the audience as other cast members. They also send up stereotypes by over-playing them. The only realism is the straight (in both senses) young man who acts as a foil but this is again a pantomime convention. .

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