Grace Dent on TV: Vicious and The Job Lot, ITV
You could say it glorified sexual assault and stereotyped gays, but I took it as a lovely daft romp
An abundant week for new television. Two new ITV1 comedies, Vicious and The Job Lot, plus Sky One's fresh-out-the-oven fly-on-the-wall doc series on Greggs the bakers entitled, ahem, More than Meats the Pie. If one is in the marketplace for a ton of heartwarming tales about proud, industrious bakers, lovely Northern lasses popping warm cheese pasties into paper bags and old folks' gossipy coffee mornings, this is a glorious way to spend an hour. It's like one long Victoria Wood As Seen On TV sketch but with the subliminal mind-implant “Mmmm pastieeees, lovely fresh cheese scone, mmmmm ring doughnut with a neon pink glaze, all on your High Street now”.
Meanwhile, on Sky Atlantic we saw Alan Ball's new offering Banshee. Ball was creator, writer and producer of my favourite show of all time, Six Feet Under, so my hopes were inflated. Banshee, however – the tale of an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, Philadelphia – is a tad too much running, leaping and sweating while dodging exploding cars for me. I suspect I'm not the correct demographic. This is TV for a man whose wife has gone to her mother's for a few days and, after his initial burst of “woooooh the world is my oyster!”, is now in sweat pants, drinking a cold can of lager while waiting for a chicken jalfrezi and garlic nan to arrive. My genetic make-up reacts to Banshee with the inner monologue: “Well this is a terrible pickle. He's not making anything any better for himself with all this shouting and shooting. ” Six Feet Under, Banshee is not. For true introspective wisdom about American masculinity on screen, there's a lovely long nerdy look at the subject in BBC2's The United States of Television.
More my type of television was new comedy Vicious, the panto-style tale of two heavily theatrical, caustic old homosexuals – Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi – living in a dark flat, curtains drawn, loathing everyone, with occasional visits from sublime proto-hag Violet – Frances de la Tour – who turns up to add deadpan fuel to their bitching bonfire. Broad, brash and shallow this may be, but if this isn't at least a rough outline of my life in the Starlight Home for Retired Hacks circa 2057, then something has gone very awry. I rather loved British stalwart Marcia Warren as Penelope, when the ensemble sat sipping tea at a gay wake, remembering their dead friend's terrific affection for handsome men. “Wasn't there a wife?” Penelope said, scrunching her face to remember the finer details of the 1960s, “I'm sure I remember a wife?” “Ugh, 17 years,” McKellen hissed with an airy wave.
Most of the opening jaunt of Vicious featured the aged couple making colossal fools of themselves by flirting with their new twenty-something neighbour. If one really wants something to get terrifically het up about, one could say the whole show glorified sexual assault and augmented gay stereotypes. I just took it for a lovely, daft, gay, romp full of acidic quips. It's too beautifully easy and temporarily satisfying to detest all new comedy on sight. I do it myself.
The opening titles roll, the first scene appears establishing characters in broad strokes. “Ugh, I hate everyone here!” the internet roars, 'I hate the fact this was even made, I hate everyone involved, in fact this shit-fest is the amalgamation of all that is wrong, safe, depressing and nepotism-fuelled about British TV commissioning.“ Obviously, in the case of BBC1's The Wright Way, this is not only true but an understatement, but, in most cases, it's just a show gathering momentum.
Following on from Vicious, The Job Lot, set in a West Midlands Job Centre, was really rather loveable. Russell Tovey as a beleaguered dole-claim clerk, Sarah Hadland as his anxious boss, plus an ensemble cast featuring an anally retentive toxic pen-pusher (Jo Enright, one of Britain's best character actresses), the long-term professionally idle Sophie McShera (Downton Abbey) plus the glorious Adeel Akhtar (Four Lions and Utopia). Russell Tovey's delightful “stick your job up your arse” strop, followed a mere 10 minutes later by a complete volte-face genuinely made me gleeful. In fact, I could watch Sophie McShera argue with Russell Tovey about why she can't take any of the jobs on offer for the entire episode. Tovey: “Greggs, the bakery, 15 hours a week?” McShera: “I'm wheat-intolerant”.
So, all in all, a lovely week of staring at a box in the corner of the room. Throw in a bit of E! channel's Chelsea Lately and Ryan Seacrest's dinner with the Kardashians – each one lovingly grilled for their inner wisdom (Rob Kardashian's sock company is going great guns) – and there was literally no good reason to stand up. Let's be honest, the untelevised world can be a huge let-down. I find most trips outdoors to be a flagrant waste of lipstick.
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