I’m an Anglophile. I love British literature, British music, British theater, British films, British food (well, some of it) and British television series.
I’ve seen Sir Ian McKellen in two stage productions: one, which I saw in London, was an Alan Ayckbourn play named “Henceforward”; the other, which I saw in Boston, was a one-man show about acting Shakespeare. He was brilliant in both.
I’ve never actually seen Sir Derek Jacobi live on stage, although I have seen a National Theater Live filmed production of “King Lear” in which he played the title role. He was brilliant.
I’m also a heterosexual male who has spent his entire adult life in the world of the theater and classical music, so a hefty percentage of my friends are gay men.
WGBH-TV in Boston broadcasts an English sitcom (or, to put it tweely, Britcom) called “Vicious.” It stars McKellen and Jacobi as two elderly gay men who have been living together for decades and who spend most of the episodes I’ve seen insulting one another.
It’s possibly the worst piece of crap I’ve ever seen on television.
I have a relatively low threshold for comedy, in the sense that almost anything will make me laugh. (Well, the new “Odd Couple” series is a laugh-free zone, but the original play is a classic and the first series, with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, was reliably funny.) “Vicious” has two of the greatest actors in the English language – three, actually, because Frances de la Tour is also in it, in the spectacularly thankless role of the couple’s sex-starved middle-aged female friend – and none of them could get a smile out of me.
The writing is partly to blame. After a while, the constant stream of furiously bitchy one-liners (and the dialogue consists of practically nothing else) loses its ability to shock or amuse, and there’s virtually nothing else going on in the characters to maintain one’s interest.
There’s also the fact that McKellen and Jacobi, both of whom are gay, play these characters as the most grotesque, offensive, over-the-top screaming queens imaginable. Straight actors could never get away with it.
Finally, there’s the sheer waste of talent. McKellen and Jacobi are justifiably giants in their field; it’s hard to believe that either one of them is so hard up for cash as to appear in a witless comedy series that can only make them look like pathetic old fairies. Getting them to appear in “Vicious” is like using two vintage Rolls-Royces as garbage trucks.