Vicious is a British sitcom shown on ITV. The series stars Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as Freddie and Stuart, a gay couple who have been together for 48 years but endure a love/hate relationship. The show premiered on 29 April 2013 and garnered 5.78 million viewers, though it received a mixed response from critics. The first series ended on 10 June 2013, and will be released on DVD on 18 November 2013. On 23 August 2013, Vicious was confirmed for a second series, to air in 2014.
When Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Ian McKellen took the roles of a bickering gay couple with theatrical tendencies in ITV’s new sitcom, Vicious, it might have fulfilled a long-standing ambition. They have known each other since they were undergraduates at Cambridge together. In 2001, McKellen told the American gay magazine The Advocate that at the time, he’d had a crush on the older man that was ‘undeclared and unrequited’. McKellen came out as gay earlier than Jacobi, and became a spokesman for gay rights after 1988. Jacobi was quieter in his public stance, but registered his civil partnership almost as soon as it was legally possible.
They are old friends, evidently have a lot in common, and obviously enjoy each other’s company. Of course they were going to jump at the chance to play a pair of poisonous old queens. The sitcom, created by the radical gay playwright Mark Ravenhill, had what is politely termed ‘mixed’ responses after its first episode on Monday night, from reviewers and from representatives of the gay community. Freddie and Stuart, the main characters, it was said, were unreal.
One critic wrote that ‘the problem with Vicious is they aren’t even stereotypes — stereotypes at least have a grain of truth in them. These are just cardboard cut-outs.’ Another called it ‘the least funny new comedy in recent memory’.
On the other hand, others, such as the Mail’s TV reviewer, thought it ‘an instant classic’, while The Times said it was ‘packed with zingers’ and hailed the fact that it ‘remembers the “com” of “sitcom” in a way that many others do not’. Though it made me laugh only a couple of times, I thought it had a lot of potential. Everyone involved, from Jacobi and McKellen to Ravenhill and Frances de la Tour (playing the pair’s lecherous best friend), is having a whale of a time.
The question might be this: is there still space for camp and bitchy queens in a television sitcom? Or have we moved on from that?