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'Vicious' recap: Season 1 launches on PBS

Season 1 | Episode 1 | Aired June 29, 2014

It’s astonishing to watch two knighted legends of film and stage bicker in bathrobes.

But here we are, in a three-part story arc with sitcom lighting, watching Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi trade barbs as grumpy gay partners of 48 years.

McKellen plays Freddie Thornhill, an egocentric thespian who turned the couple’s flat into his own house of mirrors, with shelves of awards and playbills framed on the walls. Far below the stratosphere of McKellen’s own career, we know Freddie appeared in one whole episode of Doctor Who (which McKellen, in fact, also did) and once in The Mousetrap.

Derek Jacobi as Stuart and Ian McKellen as Freddie.

Derek Jacobi as Stuart and Ian McKellen as Freddie

But so far, we know Freddie’s theatrical talents are best utilized to send his sensitive partner, Stuart Bixby (Jacobi), sobbing from the room whenever he can.

The first episode of Vicious is bookended by phone calls from Stuart’s mother, who, after nearly half a century, still doesn’t know Freddie and Stuart are partners.

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

In the first episode of this six-episode first season, Freddie and Stuart gain a hunky new neighbor named Ash (Iwan Theon, playing an epic role reversal from the savage sadist Ramsay Snow-now-Bolton on Game of Thrones).

Freddie and their hot-to-trot friend, Violet, spend much of the episode prodding Ash to reveal his sexual preferences.

Frances de la Tour as Violet and Iwan Rheon Ash.

Frances de la Tour as Violet and Iwan Rheon as Ash

Violet (Frances de la Tour) is a riot in her attempts to connect with the strapping, leather-jacketed Ash. She shamelessly name-drops Zac Efron, though she’s not entirely sure if that’s an American person or a place (“Have you ever been to Zac Efron?”).

Meanwhile, Ash’s young presence reveals all the quirks of Freddie and Stuart’s life at home. They hate interruptions of any kind, including but not limited to phone calls, door bells, sunlight and the frequent deaths of close friends.

When their old friend Clive dies, the couple holds a wake, which Freddie uses as an opportunity to regale their uninterested circle of friends with stories of Clive’s unrequited love for Freddie, which turns out to be Clive’s unrequited love for Stuart.

Stuart latches on to this newfound news, imagining an alternate timeline for his life.

“I could have been happy and successful instead of being stuck with you in this penitentiary,” Stuart tells Freddie, clucking every consonant.

“I don’t know what would be more preferable — if you woke up dead or if I did,” Freddie retorts.

Vicious insults fire nonstop in the first episode, which I’m convinced could not have been picked up in the U.S. had it not been for the legendary status and popularity of the stars.

“Some of my friends think it’s a bit beneath my dignity, but I don’t have any dignity as an actor,” said Ian McKellen in an interview with EW.com’s Lanford Beard. “I like doing a variety of things—way-out or traditional doesn’t matter to me, as long as the material is good.”

Created by American TV writer/producer Gary Janetti (Will & Grace, Family Guy) and British writer/producer Mark Ravenhill, Vicious comes across as a playground for high-caliber actors to just have some fun.

Frances de la Tour as Violet, Iwan Rheon as Ash and Ian McKellen as Freddie.

Frances de la Tour as Violet, Iwan Rheon as Ash and Ian McKellen as Freddie.

Though it debuted on Britain’s ITC TV, Vicious plays with pop culture in a way that delights both sides of the pond, at least for any PBS watcher familiar with Miss Marple and the Earl of Grantham.

It’s the opposite of another British sitcom picked up by PBS, Keeping Up Appearances, which banked on the lengths one woman would go to show the world her marriage and home life are perfect, with disastrous, hilarious results.

In Vicious, contrastingly, Freddie and Stuart openly deride and humiliate each other, even more passionately when they have an audience.

“I never know when I go too far,” Freddie tells Violet. “But I’m always glad when I do.”


So am I. Keep going too far, Freddie.

We all know how this ends.


What did you think of Vicious?

Vicious airs Sundays at 10:30 on PBS.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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