I have a confession to make: I never understood what made the British comedy, “Absolutely Fabulous” so funny. I didn’t get it when episodes were first broadcast at the local bar and, nearly 20 years later and endless reruns on Logo, I still don’t get the English humor. Now, I wasn’t about to surrender my gay card, but I did wonder which gay gene could be missing.
This Sunday, I was redeemed with the premiere of the latest Brit-com import, “Vicious,” starring Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Derek Jacobi. Both master actors boast noble theatrical pedigrees and would more likely be cast on “Masterpiece” or “Great Performances.” Heck, McKellan is, quite frankly, slumming it when he takes a roll in the latest “X-Men” or “Harry Potter” global box office smash.
“Vicious,” playing locally on PBS affiliate WPBT, features McKellan and Jacobi as an aging gay couple living out their golden years sniping at each other as only longtime lovers can. McKellan’s Freddie is a thespian with a penchant for household drama, while Jacobi’s Stuart is a former pub manager who still struggles to come out to his mother. After 50 years, their relationship is not particularly attractive at times, but the bitchiness is better than anything a local might hear down at Tropics on any given night.
They pass their time entertaining a cast of characters that bring much needed depth to the formulaic sitcom stories. In the premiere episode, while mourning the death of a close friend, they fawn all over Ash, a good-natured young neighbor played by Iwan Rheon (“Game of Thrones”). They are joined at the wake by devoted friend Violet Crosby (Frances De La Tour) and Stuart’s mother, Penelope (Marcia Warren).
The remaining five episodes will see the men interfering with Ash’s latest budding romance, celebrating their anniversary (with a special celebrity guest) and causing all sorts of generational mayhem at a local nightclub. The plots aren’t especially original, but anything delivered in a British accent is instantly cultured, anyway.
I suspect that some viewers of the heterosexual persuasion might have a time deciphering all the gay speak — British accents or not — just as I found myself struggling with “Ab Fab,” all those years ago. But, what makes “Vicious” so refreshing is that Freddie and Stuart, despite the campy quips, just happen to be gay. They could have easily been a British Ralph and Alice or Archie and Edith. Behind all the dysfunction, they really do love each other and it shows.
Check local listings for stations and show times.