ITV’s Vicious – the sitcom even Ian McKellen can’t save

Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in Vicious. Photo: ITV/Brown Eyed Boy
Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in Vicious. Photo: ITV/Brown Eyed Boy
Matt is news editor for The Stage, having started as the newspaper’s broadcast reporter. He covers all areas of the industry in his role, but has a particular interest in musical theatre. Matt studied acting at Bretton Hall and presents a monthly theatre news round up on BBC London Radio.
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When ITV’s new sitcom Vicious premiered last week, I quipped on Twitter that the only way it could be any worse was if Miranda Hart suddenly popped up in it.

I’d like to take that back.

Because, having tuned in for the second episode on Monday this week, I’ve realised that this comedy can’t actually get any worse. Indeed, and I hate to say it, if Miranda had suddenly appeared in it, and had she thrown herself on the floor or fallen off a settee or made a joke about Heather Small, I might have cracked a smile. Yes, it’s that bad.

[pullquote]I’ve no doubt that once Vicious has ended, they will be able to put this "comedy" behind them with ease, and find their talents used on more appropriate projects[/pullquote]

Vicious, in case you’ve missed it, sees Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi play Freddie and Stuart, a gay couple who have been together for the best part of 50 years.

Over the course of 30 long minutes the men bicker with each other, lust over a young, good-looking man by the name of Ash in his tight-fitting t-shirt, and generally mince around, all limp wristed, calling each other things like “You stinking pile of turd” or ‘You cheating slut”. Classic one liners, I'm sure you'll agree.

While it bothers me that these gay characters are nothing more than camp stereotypes, my main issue with this show is that it just isn’t funny.

When I think about what makes me laugh, it’s comedies such as Getting On, or Twenty Twelve, both shown originally on BBC4.

They are fantastic examples of series that make beautiful observations of real situations and of the people you often find in them. We laugh because we recognise people we know in the brilliantly drawn characters. We may even recognise ourselves in them.

The problem with Vicious is that – as with a lot of the comedies that find their way on to BBC1 or ITV1 – it features characters and situations that bear no resemblance to the lives of the viewers at home.

All of this is made even more disappointing by the fact that the names McKellen and Jacobi normally indicate a certain amount of quality. Not in this case, sadly. Instead, you find yourself asking: what could have prompted McKellen and Jacobi to sign up in the first place?

That said, I’ve no doubt that once Vicious has ended, they will be able to put this "comedy" behind them with ease, and find their talents used on more appropriate projects.

And given the ratings for the comedy aren’t particularly high, and seem to be falling, McKellen and Jacobi don’t have to worry that they will end up being remembered for Vicious.

This, surely, must be what all actors who find themselves cast in something that has not been well received must hope for.

Just this week in The Stage, for example, I have an interview with Paddy Considine, who told me that there is an impression of him that he chooses “only great roles”. He adds:

But that is because no one has seen the shit I have done. I am lucky in that respect, as it seems like, unless you stir the pond, no one gives a crap. They still quote the good stuff, which is lovely.

And I think that this will be the case for McKellen and Jacobi post Vicious. Let’s just hope that no one stirs the pond too much.

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