Ian McKellen & Derek Jacobi Get “Vicious” in New PBS Sitcom

vicious1Last Updated: 7/9/14 10:30 a.m.

In the second episode of Vicious, a new British sitcom on PBS, over-the-hill actor Freddie Thornhill is invited to a fan club screening of an old Doctor Who episode in which he played a villain.

“One of the most iconic roles of my career!” Freddie boasts to his flatmate, Stuart.

“The only,” Stuart hisses dismissively.

The fact that the has-been is played by Sir Ian McKellen, an actor still drawing throngs to the multiplexes as Gandalf in THE HOBBIT films and Magneto in the X-MEN franchise, is only part of the inside-joke charm of this delightfully meta Britcom. In fact, there’s a lot to love here, including the great Sir Derek Jacobi (PBS’s I, Claudius) as Freddie’s catty partner Stuart, Frances de la Tour (Madame Maxime from the HARRY POTTER series) as their sex-starved friend Violet, and Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones’ Ramsay Snow) as the straight hunk who is lusted after by practically everyone else in the cast.

Most of the action in Vicious takes place in the Covent Garden flat Freddie and Stuart have shared for nearly half a century, decorated with mementos of Freddie’s not-so-brilliant career (my favorite is a handbill for a play called Quick! Get Me A Vicar, which isn’t real, but should be). The two episodes I’ve seen both open with Stuart on the phone with his (unseen) elderly mother, who still doesn’t realize the two men are a couple.

“I’m waiting for the right time,” says Stuart.

“It’s been 48 years!” Freddie protests.

Screen Shot 2014-07-08 at 11.34.30 PMCreated and written by American Gary Janetti, a writer and executive producer on Will & Grace, Vicious seems like an intentionally dated throwback to an earlier era, in tone, pacing, and production style. With its stage-bound sets and multi-camera, live-switched, shot-on-video patina, the show has the look and feel of a 1970s sitcom, with one key difference: the constantly bickering lead couple is gay. But while a same-sex relationship lies at the center of the comedy, it doesn’t bear the brunt of the punchlines, as it might have a generation ago. This is a sitcom about a delightfully dysfunctional couple, co-dependently conjoined for nearly half a century. That they happen to be gay is not what is inherently funny about the premise.

McKellen and Jacobi, both out gay men, invest the broad banter and contrived situations with a Noel Coward-level comedic gravitas. And the stage-like main set – which often features McKellen making dramatic entrances via a grand staircase – only contributes to the theatricality, lending the proceedings an air of pre-War, West End farce. McKellen, Jacoby, La Tour, and co-star Marcia Warren (as the dotty Penelope, an elderly neighbor who can’t remember Stuart’s name, despite knowing him for 50 years) are all award-winning stage veterans, and their quippy banter is unlike anything else you’re likely to see in another contemporary sitcom.

Vicious airs Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. on PBS, and is streaming at PBS.org and via the PBS apps for iPhone, iPad, Roku, and Apple TV.  The entire first season is also available on DVD from PBS and digital download from iTunes. There are five more episodes to come this season, with a second series expected. Pour yourself a very dry martini and enjoy.

Update: 7/9/14 10:30 a.m. – This Friday, July 11, Ian McKellen will host a live Q&A with Vicious viewers on Twitter. Tag your tweets with #ViciousPBS.

Vicious2

About willmckinley

Will McKinley is a New York City-based writer, producer and classic film and TV obsessive. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by host Robert Osborne), Sirius Satellite Radio and the official TCM podcast. Will has written for PBS and his byline has appeared more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News.
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17 Responses to Ian McKellen & Derek Jacobi Get “Vicious” in New PBS Sitcom

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Just found out about this and really want to catch up with the series.

  2. Peter Gong says:

    This is a brilliant series! They are vicious, but underneath there is true affection for each other. The second episode proves that when Stuart went to work to buy Freddie a new coat for his Dr. Who gig and not tell him. It brings the O’Henry’s story of The gift of the Magi with a twist.

  3. I thought the title to this post was a joke, because it seemed too good to be true, but I am happy to see it isn’t! I will definitely be checking this out now. :-)

  4. vanessabuttino says:

    This sounds incredible! I’m a massive fan of British television, so I’m really looking forward to watching this new series. Frances de la Tour was fantastic in The History Boys (film) – you should definitely check it out, Will.

  5. alanhait says:

    I don’t think Ian McKellen was ever on Doctor Who, but Derek Jacobi *was*, as a regeneration of “The Master” during the David Tennant years. (Oh lordy, how do I even know that?) It’s a cute show and a joy to see these old pros having such effortless fun.

  6. Looking forward to seeing this.

  7. brianhawks1 says:

    Thanks, Will I’m tuning in ASAP. ;-)) Brian (brianhawks1 – and retweeting)

  8. Tonya says:

    Just stumbled on the show a little over a week ago and I’ve had to pick my jaw up from the ground throughout each show! They are a riot! I love them… and so simply love good ol’ BBC comedies.

    One of my favorite pinterest pins in McKellen in a t-shirt that says He’s Gandolf and Magneto and to get over it :)

    Thanks for your post!
    ~Tonya

  9. CB says:

    Love love love the show—– now when is it continuing?
    Devilish Joy!

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