‘Vicious’ Episode 1 Review

Wasted cast on an outdated setting and script.

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On paper, ITV’s new sitcom Vicious is extremely promising. Starring theatre legends Sir Ian McKellen as Freddie and Sir Derek Jacobi as Stuart, the pair play a couple living together in London. The first episode follows the duo as they host a wake and are joined by friends and new neighbor Ash, (Iwan Rheon). But, unfortunately, the programme itself died a death upon trying to revive a rather outdated format.

Originally titled ‘Vicious Old Queens’ McKellen and Jacobi play a very camp couple, exchanging catty comments and bickering throughout the episode. You want it to be good. You try and laugh, but more often than not, the script falls flat. At times there were quick exchanges that were quite witty. One running joke, which was mildly funny, stemmed from the fact that Stuart had yet to tell his ageing mother that he was gay, despite having been in a relationship with Freddie for forty-eight years. But the outdated setting unfortunately shrouded much of the humor. Stuart is told of his friend’s death via the telephone; we are introduced to the couple’s new neighbor following a knock at the door, and inserts of roaring audience laughter follow each punch line. Regrettably, I do not know what they were laughing at. Overall, Vicious felt slightly panto.

The best jokes of the episode came from McKellen as Freddie, recounting his acting career and concluding with his role as a character on Coronation Street who murdered a prostitute. Also, whilst shouting at Stuart, he slips into his Wigan accent and is teased for his lack of ‘Shakespearean tone’. But it’s only funny because this is Ian McKellen telling the story, not because of his character, the setting or the writing. Ultimately, the programmes redeeming feature is the cast – but even a great cast cannot carry a dire script.

Vicious felt like a re-run of something from the seventies I would watch with my family over Christmas. Essentially, it felt outdated. The action centers in a single room and the characters come and go through doors on either side of the set. It appears as though the writers looked up the traditional definition of ‘sit-com’ and stuck to it to the letter, which is disappointing. Everything was set for this to be brilliant. The writers, Oliver Award-winning Playwright Mark Ravenhill and Will and Grace producer, Gary Janetti, the strong main cast and appearances from Frances de la Tour, had the potential to be amazing.

Perhaps episode one was just a blip and the next episode will be fantastic, but unfortunately, I think that’s unlikely.