Vicious - Review

Over the last few years the portrayal of homosexuals on TV has changed dramatically. Once they were simply used as comic relief: the camp neighbour or best friend that a main character would turn to in times of need, who dispensed wisdom along with witty barbed comments. More recently, gay characters have come to the fore with their sexuality being incidental to their personality; Kurt in Glee, Lafayette in True Blood, Cameron & Mitchell in Modern Family.

Now we have Vicious, a new sitcom from ITV with two gay characters in the leads. Knights of the realm Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen play Stuart and Freddie, a couple of old queens who spend their day sat at either end of their sofa like a couple of bookends in cardigans, trading bitchy barbs. Freddie is a retired actor whose career highlight was “killing a prostitute on Coronation Street” and Stuart used to be a bar manager who is so far in the closet, he hasn’t got round to coming out to his mother. After 48 years together, they have both started to realise that maybe they could have done better and their vitriol pours out at each other at every opportunity. They are joined by their fag hag Violet (Frances De La Tour), and when a sexy young man moves into the flat upstairs, they are falling over themselves to gain his attention.

Considering this was created by Olivier award winning playwright Mark Ravenhill and one of the writers of Will & Grace, Gary Janetti, this should have been something very special. Instead, what we get is something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the 1970’s. De La Tour is forced to repeat a gag about Zac Efron (“That’s a person right? Or is it a place?”) while also making a couple of incredibly out of place rape gags aimed at the cute new arrival, while McKellen and Jacobi turn into a pair of quite creepy predatory gay men. The tone is so inconsistent that half the time it seems as though it was written for an edgy Channel 4 slot, while the rest tries desperately to be mainstream ITV and not offend anyone.

It’s also quite odd that a programme centred on two gay men would shy away from using the word “gay”. Most of this first episode concerned the trio trying to ascertain if the new tenant is gay or not, but without ever using the word “gay”. It’s as though ITV bosses think their prime time audience can put up with gay characters on their screens as long as the word is never mentioned, which is odd considering some of the drivel the characters come out with.

The performances do nothing to help the situation. All the actors involved seem to think they are in a Brain Rix farce and are playing it at full throttle, shouting their lines and enunciating like there’s no tomorrow. Adding to the dated feel is a set that looks like a cross between Rising Damp and Sunset Boulevard. There were a couple of funny lines (just a couple though), and it’s fantastic to see Marcia Warren back on our screens, but in a show lasting 25 minutes the hit rate really does need to be higher.

Obviously this was just the first episode, but it needs to improve quickly if it’s to find a regular audience outside of the niche one that will have enjoyed this opener. British TV needs a good new sitcom, and it needs well written, believable gay characters, but at the moment Vicious is failing on both counts.

Vicious is on ITV at 9pm on Monday nights. Check out the ITV official site or watch episodes on ITV Player.

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