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Sir Ian Mckellen and Derek Jacobi on the set of Vicious

Despite savage reviews by British television critics, something tells me that American fans of British comedies may well find a new favorite in PBS’s new six-part sitcom, Vicious starring acclaimed actors Sir Ian McKellen and Derek Jacob. Why?  Because, after previewing the first five episodes of season 1, I  most certainly found a lot to love.

Created and executive produced by Gary Janetti of Will & Grace fame, Vicious tells the story of partners Freddie (McKellen) and Stuart (Jacobi), who have lived together in a small central London flat for 48 years in not exactly what you might call utter bliss. The characters savage each other relentlessly from “good morning” with fork-tongued barbs and epic quantities of shade, but it is clear from the start that this is simply the way they communicate and that underneath the acerbic attacks there is a well of love that sustains the relationship. It actually felt like an afternoon with some of my dearest friends, though I readily acknowledge that as we all love a good a put down, we are not your average bears, so my assessment may be slightly colored.

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Sir Ian Mckellen and Derek Jacobi, Vicious

To be sure, there is nothing new or revolutionary about the format of the show, nor is there anything about it that could be considered clever by far, but that is precisely what I actually loved about it. McKellan and Jacobi deliver high camp of the variety seen only in reruns on TV Land these days but it is absolutely appropriate to the characters they portray. Moreover, these two lions of the British acting establishment bring a certain gravitas to a show that could have quite easily gone off the rails with lesser talents. Their timing is impeccable, their chemistry natural and they wear these two characters with a noted lack of self-consciousness that renders them endearing.

In fact I much prefer the straightforward, theatrical nature of Vicious to HBO’s Looking {a show I couldn’t watch for more than ten minutes), not least of all because it really just doesn’t seem to feel the need to try so hard and in that sense there is something almost wonderfully old-fashioned about it.  Particularly as it’s familiar format recalls other British sitcom favorites like My Family and As Time Goes By. The supporting cast which includes Frances de la Tour as Freddy and Stuart’s needy, omnipresent and forever feisty best friend Violet, a wickedly funny Marcia Warren as one of the couple’s dotty old friends and Iwan Rheon, in a much less menacing role than the one he inhabits on Game of Thrones, as  the young, sexy, but dim-witted upstairs neighbor, rounds out the show brilliantly.

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Sir Ian Mckellen and Derek Jacobi on the set of Vicious with cast

Bottom line: Will your life be changed at the end of each 22-minute episode of Vicious? Probably not.

But was your life changed at the end of every episode of The Golden Girls? I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘no’.  But did you smile? Did you laugh at Bea Arthur’s many put downs of Betty White or Rue McLanahan? Did you end a great episode with the golden gals feeling better than when you started it? Well if so, I’m going to suggest you give Vicious a chance because it is a show that like a good recipe, only requires a few high quality ingredients and very little else to succeed beautifully and it does.

Vicious begins airing on PBS Sunday, June 29 at 10:30PM. Pre-order the entire Season 1 DVD at www.shoppbs.org.

Watch a clip from the show below: