First Review: The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle

“Did you say Oprah?” gasps Vivienne Vyle.

“How dare you talk about Oprah? We’d all like to be Oprah! We’d all like to sit and clutch hands with Susan Sarandon and weep openly when she says she’s a great ‘marm.’

“We’d all like to sit smugly in the condom of cashmere and deal out Ralph Lauren vouchers to the poor and hungry, but we can’t. Do you know why she can? Because she owns the f***ing channel! She doesn’t need children!”

As TV talk show host ‘Vivienne Vyle’, UK comedian Jennifer Saunders is back, unleashing her characteristic stinging barbs in a sharp new comedy from the BBC. As a fusion of Jerry Springer, Larry Sanders and assorted British hosts, this is the best vehicle for Saunders’ talents since Ab Fab concluded. Mirrorball and Jam and Jerusalem were hardly her biting best.

Here, Saunders lets rip on trash TV. We go behind the scenes, literally, of her shows entitled, ‘My Son Calls The Wrong Man Daddy’, and ‘I Love My Mum But She Dresses Like a Whore’. Backstage, a production assistant revs up a jealous father directly before he’s introduced. “She’s trying to take your son away from you,” he says. “Tell her, mate, do something about it!”

Vyle confronts her angered, working class guests, moralising from on high like a televangelist. Before long she’s socked in the nose and lying in a hospital bed. This leads to the show’s producer Helena De Wend, played mercilessly by Miranda Richardson, imposing a psychotherapist on the show. Dr. Phil anyone? But the conceited Vyle is having none of Dr. Jonathan Fowler (Jason Watkins), who insists most of the guests are too unstable to appear.

Set against the on-screen theatrics and moral shortcomings of television are Vyle’s deeper, personal issues. She has married her gay friend Jared (Conleth Hill) but is desperate to become a mother via her dead husband’s frozen sperm.

Richardson’s smoking, swearing, ballsy producer looks like Geri Haliwell on a bender. Her daughter, spending more time with her Nanny, only speaks Spanish. Christopher Ryan (The Young Ones) will also appear as Miriam, Vyle’s transgender PR advisor.

As you might have guessed, everything is in place for a rip-roaring attack on television, pop psychology and celebrity. I loved it.

The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle premieres 9pm Monday July 28 on UKTV.

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