And then I watched the first episode.
I’m still scratching my head trying to work out what possessed two such respected performers to agree to this stale, gay sitcom. It’s like a rejected script from an early working of Are You Being Served?
Perhaps both thought they were being progressive in portraying a minority within a minority on the small screen. Certainly television likes its gay men to either be desirable hunks, camp queens or bitchy reality judges. Amid an ongoing debate about same-sex marriage, visibility of long-term relationships shows another side to the issue.
But the irony is this is so twee it isn’t progressive at all. Maybe something was lost between concept and execution.
Vicious is like a drawing-room comedy on television, with the first episode entirely taking place in one location: the living room and kitchen of Freddie and Stuart’s Covent Garden flat.
McKellan plays ageing actor Freddie, who insists his career isn’t over. He’s forever reminding one and all of his CV credits, especially in pointless conversations with his partner Stuart (Jacobi). When Stuart speaks to his mother on the phone, he can’t bring himself to tell her the nature of his relationship with “flatmate” Freddie. It’s kind of a reversal of the calls Hyacinth Bucket used to receive from her distant son on Keeping Up Appearances, only less funny.
In the opening episode a handsome young stranger Ash (Iwan Rheon) knocks on the door, mistaking the flat for a vacant room upstairs. Stuart and Freddie are all a-flutter at his presence, with goading questions about whether he may be gay. Ash plays along as the straight man -ahem- while the quips fly about him like The Golden Girls on heat.
Neighbour Violet Crosby (Frances de la Tour) also has designs on Ash and at least her punchlines are less overt.
The plot of the episode is sitcom-simple. The direction is unbelievably static, largely consisting of the principals seated on a settee firing insults at one another. The premise is, after all, dependent on two men who have been partners for 49 years enduring a love-hate relationship.
Writers Gary Janetti (Family Guy) and Mark Ravenhill pack more than the required minimum of a gag every three lines. Some are amusing. Most are old-fashioned. But the studio audience, possibly weaned on a diet of 1970s British comedy, lap it up with glee. Mrs. Brown’s Boys has a lot to answer for.
McKellan and Jacobi deliver their barbs with precision but the effect borders on the grotesque. Iwan Rheon, sporting a dodgy wig, is denied any of the drama that was evident in Misfits.
Despite the unsubtle, theatrical nature of Vicious, it has remarkably been approved for a second season.
And that’s the unfunniest joke of all.
Vicious airs 9:10pm Monday on 7TWO.