2014-01-20_2213I was very much looking forward to seeing Vicious, the UK comedy starring Sir Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi as two seniors in a same-sex relationship.

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.


  1. W have watched all the episodes and we don’t mind it. Might get a bit repeticious after awhile if they keep on the same theme of them jabbing at each other.

  2. I watched the first ep of this on a plane the other day and to be honest I didn’t mind it. Yes it was a little bit slow at times but there were quite a few laugh out loud moments (which is always embarrassing on a plane).

    I’m prepared to give it another go.

  3. It was a surprising recommission but ITV had no choice really – they’re trying to get back into comedy so obviously felt a second shot of this was better than trying something new – though that’s questionable to say the least – especially now they’re running a comedy block with the revived Birds of a Feather and Benidorm both getting around 6m viewers a week, twice as many as Vicious was.

    The Job Lot was better IMO and that’s been recommissioned, but demoted to ITV2.

  4. There is quite a lot of British TV that is pretty bad and only exists for reasons that make sense to the British.

    We used to see only the best ones on FTA. Now thanks to digital technology we get to see the rest.

  5. I sadly have to agree after having watched the whole series + Christmas special last year. I continued watching as Frances (Violet) and Marcia Warren (Penelope) are just scene stealers. I hope S2 will bring in some excellent script writers or editors. A makeover. The comic timing of the the Sir’s was brilliant however ( Bea Arthur on Golden Girls is still yet to be beaten though). Perhaps they need to break the fourth wall and make it more of a live stage show rather than a couch com? It definitely has potential and with three large stars it seems silly for it to just fade into the vaults. No doubt they are working it over hugely as it received very bad reviews so for S2 to be commissioned…the work is obviously being done.

  6. This does stink, and the only real laugh I got was in the final episode from surprise guest Judi Dench.
    Her dialogue is a cracker, but this series is not worth sifting through for Judi’s 45 second appearance.

  7. Secret Squirrel

    I wanted this to be good but it is cringe-worthy. I have no idea what either McKellan or Jacobi were thinking when agreeing to serve up another dose of this clumsy god-awful drivel. They’re not short of a quid so I’ll have to put it down to senile dementia.

    There were a couple of favourable reviews in the UK from people obviously experiencing a rush of nostalgia for the likes of Are You Being Served, but most ranged from bemused to scathing.

    I agree with par3182 that 2 stars seems a little generous. I’m guessing it’s one star each for Messrs McKellan and Jacobi, one star for their comic timing, no stars for the script, and negative one star for the dialogue.

  8. “Neighbour Violet Crosby (Frances de la Tour) also has designs on Ash and at least her punchlines are less overt.”

    Less overt, but “I hope he doesn’t rape me” was just offensive and unfunny, and then she said it again later in the episode.

    Truly awful; two stars seems an incredibly generous rating.

  9. Reviews of this show from the UK were equally scathing, it wasn’t well received at all.
    I can only assume that it got decent ratings from somewhere, as opinion of it didn’t seem to be good enough to warrant a second series.

  10. Have to agree 100%. It’s just terrible. The idea could have been great with better writers and director. I couldn’t make it past the second episode, and I’d usually forgive almost anything just to make it through to the end to see if it gets any better. Such a shame.

  11. jezza the first original one

    Is it just a sign of greater equality. There are plenty of ‘straight’ sitcoms that are crap, yet still get renewed, now there is a gay one. Just a thought.

  12. Ouch. Unlike most other genres, comedy is the most devisive and subjective genre of the lot. I absolutely loved Vicious – the comic timing was perfect, the mishmash of Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served was obvious but very welcome after countless weak attempts, such as Big School. The six episodes and one Christmas special did not make the series drag out too long and I am very glad it is coming back for another season. Great review though, but I guess different tastes make the world keep spinning with variety 🙂

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