Thursday, July 3, 2014

Pilot Review: Vicious

Vicious (PBS)
Premiered June 29 at 10:30pm

It’s not often that you see a sitcom – with a laugh track, no less – starring two revered English actors in their seventies. But PBS is renowned for bringing such British treasures to American audiences, most recently and notably popularizing “Downton Abbey” in the United States. What we have here is an odd and somewhat puzzling gem, something that’s both infinitely entertaining and potentially terribly offensive at the same time. Simply put, this is “Hot in Cleveland” with a gay British twist, a much more sophisticated and stuffy version of “2 Broke Girls.” The sex jokes are rampant and omnipresent, and it’s hard to make it through a scene without the feminine or diva-like qualities of either Ian McKellen’s Freddie or Derek Jacobi’s Stuart insulted by the other. You could think of this six-episode series, which aired on ITV over a year ago, as a light side project taken on by these two true thespians, a chance to have fun while playing much more serious roles in action pieces or Shakespeare adaptations. That doesn’t mean either one is trying very hard, but they succeed rather effortlessly at being appalling and charming at the same time. There’s a hidden sentimentality underneath it all which makes this a winning and enjoyable setup. Adding to the entertainment are Iwan Rheon, fresh off his role as Ramsay in “Game of Thrones,” and Frances de la Tour, who I remember from “The History Boys,” as the witty and excessively flirtatious Violet. Everyone is really just hamming it up here, and I don’t see any reason why not to check in with this short show for six weeks this summer.

How will it work as a series? The sitcom format has worked well for ages, and this series is returning to the basics, confining itself to an interior set and not asking too much of its actors. The presence of a laugh track suggests simple scripts with plenty of bite, and it seems like it will be a reliable and enjoyable time.
How long will it last? ITV already renewed this show for a special and a second season last year. I don’t see a reason why PBS wouldn’t want to keep airing episodes that have already been produced, especially since it’s such a short order.

Pilot grade: B

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