On Friday, the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law in every one of our fifty states, a landmark decision cherished across the nation by all non-homophobes. I spent the weekend celebrating by marathoning the seven existing episodes of Gary Janetti and Mark Ravenhill's brutal, hilarious Vicious.
In Vicious, long-time friends Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi play Freddie and Stuart, a couple of forty-eight years who live in a flat in London, sniping at and supporting each other in equal turn. (Actually, not quite equal: there seems to be more sniping than supporting, because that's funnier.) They often entertain their friends: Violet (Frances de la Tour), their bawdy best friend who remains forever unlucky in love; Ash (Game of Thrones' Iwan Rheon), their sweet, hunky, near-witless neighbor; Penelope (Marcia Warren), their dementia-addled old friend and Mason (Philip Voss), a man who truly seems to loathe them.
The jokes are relentless in this thing: every half-hour episode left me gasping and crying with laughter. As an ensemble, Vicious is a masterpiece, building up decades of history in under four hours, creating inextricable links among these characters thanks to six note-perfect performances. And McKellen and Jacobi are a dream team: Freddie is a posh, tyrannical, mostly out-of-work actor, and Stuart is the fastidious, half-gracious man who loves him. These men, dealing out elegant insults at a remarkable rate, are barbarous to one another and to all of their friends, but we never doubt for a second the genuine love they share for each other and the misfits who surround them. Vicious is almost always, well, vicious, but when it takes a sudden turn for affectionate it will catch you off-guard with tears in your eyes, tears for a relationship as beautiful and specific and wonderfully real as Stuart and Freddie's.
Vicious first aired on ITV (not BBC, as I originally stated) and made it over to the States via PBS. It's filmed in front of a live studio audience, so you will hear audience laughter, but as the almost entirely one-set production feels like a theatrical play, it's hardly the jarring laugh track of old American sitcoms. You can watch Vicious free online if you have Amazon Prime, or pick up the disc at the link below. The second series is airing in England right now, and we should get it sometime in the fall. Here's McKellen and Jacobi celebrating the Supreme Court's decision on Friday: