PBS has imported the ITV comedy Vicious, starring Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi as a pair of vicious old queens (that was the show’s working title).
“It is rather stressful coming here,” comments Penelope (Marcia Warren) in the second episode of ITV’s Vicious, a comedy series that will have its stateside debut this Sunday on PBS. She’s not wrong. Vicious stars Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi as a couple who has been together almost half a century and…that’s a long time to be with anyone. The show combines the Catskills humor and bitchiness of Golden Girls with the bitchiness and Catskills humor of Will & Grace and mixes them with the more playful moments from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? All of those elements can work in small doses, but after 22 minutes the title Vicious can come across as an understatement.
Despite these influences, Vicious is somewhat groundbreaking in its own right. First, we have a series about a monogamous gay couple where both actors are gay in real life. On top of that, the couple is in their late 60s/early 70s. That’s a lot of representation with just two people. Although the humor is 90% mean spirited, none of the snipes are about the individuals describing one another as a fruit, fairy, or queer.1 One of the conceits in the show is that Stuart (Jacobi) has not come out to his mother, despite living with Freddy (McKellan) for DECADES, which gets mined for laughs at the beginning of each episode. There are other tentpoles through each episode—neighbor Ash (Iwan Rheon) asking for advice, checking in with the 20-year-old dog Balthasar, friend Violet’s (Frances de la Tour) sexcapades—which give the show a retro sitcom vibe. The basic premises of the episode plots seem rather antiquated, but considering the new territory this show is exploring I can understand not wanting to do too much at once. Queer as Folk became an instant farce and concerned with ISSUES—Vicious is going for a soft (yet abrasive) sell.
If you are interested in checking out this show, I would recommend recording the first episode but starting with the second. There are a few jokes in the first episode that will probably be dealbreakers for some viewers but are outliers in terms of tone and abrasiveness for the rest of the series. You won’t miss much in terms of exposition as the formulaic nature of the show should allow any viewer to drop in and understand the dynamics.
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- Looking at you Will & Grace. ↵