Monday, July 21, 2014

vicious is viciously funny

I have been enjoying the heck out of Vicious, the Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi sitcom airing on public television. We are already halfway through its six episode first season.

McKellen and Jacobi are Freddie and Stuart, an elderly gay couple who have been together for 48 years. The pair bicker constantly and caustically and share a dog, Balthasar, who the audience never sees, but the pair occasionally checks on to see if he is still breathing. Freddie is an actor who has never had much success, but is constantly reminiscing about his career. Stuart is his long-suffering partner, who still hasn't told his aged mother about Freddie being more than just his "roommate." In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly McKellen pointed out the essence of the comedy, "Probably the most remarkable thing about them is not that they’re gay, but that they’ve been together for 50 years."

Freddie (Ian McKellen) and Stuart (Derek Jacobi) share a cuppa

Like all classic apartment sitcoms, Freddie and Stuart's apartment is a way-station for their friends and neighbors, most frequently in the form of Violet (Frances de la Tour), who flirts relentlessly and fruitlessly with their other regular visitor, their young upstairs neighbor Ash (Iwan Rheon). The series has an old-school feel. Jacobi's character at times calls to mind John Inman's Mr. Humphries of Are You Being Served fame. It is interesting to watch Jacobi trading barbs here on PBS on one night while the station is also running the latest season of the more dramatic Last Tango in Halifax.

ian mckellen vicious derek jacobi my rubbish gif my other ian mckellen vicious derek jacobi my rubbish gif my other
ian mckellen vicious derek jacobi my rubbish gif my other ian mckellen vicious derek jacobi my rubbish gif my other

In the first episode of Vicious we are introduced to the couple, who are remembering an old friend who has recently passed away. They hold a wake in his memory, but spend most of the evening trying to impress their young and handsome new neighbor Ash — and determine whether he is gay or straight. By the second episode Ash is on good enough terms with the older pair to confide his troubles with in on-again, off-again girlfriend. The couple may trade vicious barbs, but also make sacrifices for one another, Ash discovers, as he becomes impressed with Stuart, who has taken a part-time job in a shop to earn enough money to buy Freddie a new overcoat.  The most recent episode was a blast, as it gave McKellen an opportunity to teach Ash about acting — in a horrible, hammy way — as he was preparing for an audition as Cook Staff #4 on “Downton Abbey.” Jacobi also missed no chance to steal every scene he was in, with some great physical and verbal comedy.

Freddie goes over his script with Ash (Iwan Rheon)

Jacobi and McKellen are working in a typical sitcom format, but their characters' fearless attacks, whether trained on themselves or anyone who happens to be in their general vicinity, take their campy insults to another level. Frances de la Tour makes the audience cringe with her single entendres as much as poor Ash, while still making Violet likable. It is especially nice to see Iwan Rheon in a part where he can be not only funny and cute but a nice guy — quite a change from his creeptastic performance as Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones.

A second series has been confirmed, which is good news for viewers both here and abroad.


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