TV Review - Vicious

Ian McKellan (left) and Derek Jacobi in "Vicious"
This British series originally aired last year on ITV. It was re-broadcast on PBS this summer. It's comprised of six episodes or six parts, plus a Christmas special. It stars Sir Ian McKellan and Derek Jacobi as an elderly, gay couple who has lived together for nearly 50 years.

Ian McKellan (Gods and Monsters and The Lord of the Rings) plays Freddie, an actor who is not doing so well in his career and who probably hasn't ever done well in the past 50 years but he keeps at it and he certainly talks a good game, always self-aggrandizing.

Derek Jacobi (Love Is the Devil and Hamlet) plays Stuart, a retiree and pensioner whose profession is not overtly stated. At the start of every episode, he's on the phone with his mother who doesn't know he's gay. He has an old dog named Balthazar who is unseen and often presumed dead as he lay covered in his bed in the kitchen.

Frances de la Tour (The History Boys and Hugo) plays Violet, the best friend of the two men who despite her age or perhaps because of it is very sexual. She won't resist hitting on younger men or even going online to pursue relationships that way. She's witty and often suave.

Iwan Rheon (Misfits and Game of Thrones) plays Ash, the new neighbor who is young and sexy and tickles the fancy of the three older characters. He's not too bright. He's very sweet and good-natured, but comes to care for all three. He's simply the lovable idiot to be a foil to Freddie and Stuart.

Aside from the particular dynamics that Violet and Ash bring, the bulk of the comedy comes from the insult humor lobbied back-and-forth between Freddie and Stuart. That insult humor is as the title of the series suggests. In fact, the insult humor is downright mean.

The trick by the end of the series is not to have the audience walking away wondering why these two are together. The two recognize that their insult humor is exactly that, and they aren't really trying to hurt each other. Their words are loud and over-the-top but their actions are even louder and even more over-the-top, and their actions demonstrate a love and respect.

That's always the undercurrent, but it's simply caked in this viciousness that some might call a brutal honesty that at old age most are afforded. It might not be proper but it's probably freeing.

Written by Gary Janetti (Will & Grace and Family Guy) and Mark Ravenhill, it's freeing for them to craft some clever lines. They're gut punches and low blows, but I think the makers of the show appropriately chose as the theme song "Never Can Say Goodbye," covered in a gay way by The Communards in 1987. Even though the full lyrics aren't heard, those lyrics in part encompass the spirit here.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Available on PBS on Demand and DVD.


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