Vicious is very old fashioned and very, very camp. It is not great television but it is not completely terrible either. If you like these types of live-audience sitcoms then you’ll probably enjoy it and if your interests lie elsewhere then it’s probably worth tuning in occasionally if you’ve got absolutely nothing else to do.
Ian McKellen plays Freddie Thornhill, a former actor with pretentious airs, who lives with his partner Stuart Bixby, played by fellow theatrical big-gun Derek Jacobi. The show seems to be set entirely within the pair’s flat, with a host of supporting elderly characters, and one youngster, Ash, who lives upstairs. Episode one has the characters dealing with the death of a friend.
Vicious is written by Gary Jenetti, a producer and writer for the US show Will & Grace, who brings the catty insults, the camp, and a type of broad, studio comedy found in American network TV. His co-writer is English playwright Mark Ravenhill, who is presumably responsible for the show’s very stage-like set-up.
The show is reminiscent of old British comedies, with Steptoe and Son being the one that jumps out most. Freddie is a similar character to Steptoe’s Harold, with his penchant for feigning an actorly dialogue and dialect, and his frustrating love-hate relationship with the person he lives with. The Odd Couple might be a potential influence as well, and The Sunshine Boys, the fantastic film – adapted from a play – about two elderly former actors bickering with each other. It’s too early to judge really, but from the first episode, I wouldn’t say Vicious comes anywhere close to the quality of these works.
The comedy in the show is very repetitive; and by that I mean that each joke is a variation on the same formula. It’s almost all catty insults. It’s not entirely repetitive – the actors are good at raising a smile with their performances for instance – but the constant back-and-forth biting starts to get irritating after a while, like how I imagine it would be spending an entire day with Alan Carr.
I should probably write something about how the main characters are gay, seeing as the media won’t shut up about it. I’m not though going to praise the show simply because it’s about homosexuals. This isn’t the 90s. And I find kind of annoying the amount of positive newspaper articles written about this show before episode one had even aired, and all of them about the fact that it involves gay people.
They did the same thing with Citizen Khan on the BBC. Look, you don’t address the problems facing minorities by putting shows about minorities on TV. You address that problem by putting good shows about minorities on TV. Let’s not hail every single show that doesn’t have a white, straight male as the lead as an amazing achievement before episode one even airs. And after it has aired, criticism shouldn’t be withheld simply because the show has got a minority in it, because that just makes the problem worse (that hasn’t happened with Vicious though, judging from the early, mainly negative reviews).
This isn’t to say necessarily that this show is awful or anything, just that it shouldn’t be hailed as a giant leap forward for minorities and get bags of unqualified praise because ‘hey, gay people on TV. Wow’. And there’s also the fact, ignored in many newspaper articles previewing the show, but generally pointed out in the comments beneath, that the main characters both conform to the gay stereotypes we see on TV a lot. ‘They are not presented as funny because they are gay,’ says the reviewer in The Independent. I’m not sure that’s the case.
Vicious is a little funny in places and the performances are about as good as you’d expect when you’ve got actors like McKellen – although both McKellen and Jacobi ham it up a bit, to the point of annoyance at times. And something that’s been lost in all the hype about having gay characters as the leads is the fact that the majority of characters are also elderly, which is quite unusual, and nice to see. But I’m not sure there’s much depth to the show, and it’s very broad in tone. A few people will love it, many will like it. Many will completely ignore it.
- ‘Your mother is always the first to know when someone dies. Is she getting the news straight from Satan?’
- ‘Has anyone ever said you remind them of Zac Efron? That’s a person, right?’
- ‘I’m quite certain I know you. Have I seen you at Zac Efron?’
- ‘I’m not quite sure how to behave.’ ‘Have you ever been a guest before?’
- ‘I also killed a prostitute on Coronation Street.’
- ‘I hope you’ve had fun. And maybe learned a little about social graces as well?’