Vicious? Hardly - but that is the point. So, famous UK playwright and American Comedy writer (off Will and Grace) get together to create the UK’s first openly gay sitcom and everyone slags it off for being camp, old fashioned and yes, not nearly as funny as Julian and Sandy (Round the Horne) .
Camp, from the French, se camper, (to mince about) involves swish and drag and in this case playing to the Gods. The problem with ‘Vicious’ is not merely in the writing - the US writer has had to jump from an NBC 21 mins to ITV’s 24 and is struggling to put in character - but in its arch delivery. But let’s look deeper.
In fact the pathos IS there, only not as in such clear evidence as in Frasier. You knew they were gay and not brothers - right? Where Frasier was dipped in wit, wryness and the tongue in cheek, Vicious has not yet refined its witty apercus - but there is time. The fundamental need and deep seated love between them is rammed down our throats (Mrs) when McKellan turns on a sixpence in the last scenes: it is Restoration comedy at its most bawdy and or banal. It is aided by the wonderfully dotty Marcia Warren and Miss Jones, though she really is too old to play a succubus. Ash, delighted actor-to-be-playing-with-the-big-boys is not really a character - merely a plot device. His actions and behaviour have no credibility whatsoever. That he is from the North, as is McKellan’s character (Freddie) begs an interesting question -
What if it turns out that Ash is his son from some early hetero fling? That would be a premise.
At the moment it’s all declaiming - too one note, too queenly. It needs to take its loafers and coloured socks off and relax for a bit. Ed Bye is a stalwart comedy director faced with a tough gig. These old Thespians are not comedy actors! Gandalf and Claudius are Drama dearie, and what drama does when it’s nervous is screech! Hopefully, as this beds in, they will feel more comfortable in the roles and stop playing it like New York Puerto Rican sitcom
(Imagine Luis Guzman meets Dezi Arnez
Yes I know one is Latino, one Cuban).
Who is its intended audience? This is clearly Peter Fincham (ITV head of comedy, via BBC, via Tiger Aspect) with a plan. This and The Job Lot which follows on immediately afterwards (brilliant, measured, paced) are ITV’s attempt to wrestle comedy from its BBC stranglehold. Monday night is an ideal night for comedy. We are grumpy from the first day back in work and not ready yet for the yards of Endeavour or yet more bastard cookery programmes. So we are being offered cockery (See what I…oh never mind). ITV has always demanded it gets 6 million viewers and Vicious, with watch again, is getting this. This is not comedy for the young. It is for a theatre-going, wealthy, over 40’s public. Sitcom came out of theatre and briefly this is where it is returning. Miranda. Mrs Brown’s Boys, Not Going Out, The Wright Way - all are Panto in extremis. This is an attempt to capture those who feel disenfranchised by multi platform/channel TV.
And why not? We are an aging demographic. Our biggest payments in benefits are on pensions, which far exceed the unemployed and malingerers (3%, apparently, to nearly 50% going to the pension pot). VIcious is loud enough so your Granny can hear it and the jokes are signposted so that we know to put on a cup of tea for when they arrive.
This is fine.
Comedy is not, and should not always be just about the young. Older people NEED a bloody good laugh. Yes, VIcious is stagey and queeny and hammy and other dwarf names, but, as De la Tour might say, it is rather fun and there is nothing wrong in that.
Is it relevant? In retrospect, yes. Because thirty years ago we did not have openly gay characters on TV, except in the Soaps. There are STILL very few openly out sports stars. Julian and Sandy were hilarious because they used innuendo and camp in an age where pre the Wolfenden Report, to be homosexual meant prison (and bumming therein - a win-win). Mr Humphries’ John Inman never came out, nor did Kenneth Williams or Hugh Paddick - but I do rather suspect Julian Clary.
VIcious is doing what Citizen Kahn did. Using the tropes of Old fashioned sitcom (safe, Seventies) to get across something ever so slightly reactionary - that you can have an openly Asian or gay sitcom on TV but you can’t be too obvious. TV moves, ironically, at a pedestrian pace in dealing with issues (certainly in its comedy, which is conservative with a small c). My next blog piece is on the Job Lot, which is a fine synthesis of the old and new….
I’ll stick it in later……