The "homosexual sitcom" has become something of a subgenre in the last decade-and-a-half. With shows like Will and Grace, The New Normal, Glee, and Modern Family normalizing depictions of homosexuality on television, the furor over Ellen Degeneres coming out of the closet seems ever further away.
British television has embraced this new paradigm with a totality that perhaps goes beyond American programming. Nonetheless, there are always new frontiers to explore. In an interesting move, British network ITV has begun production on Vicious, a sitcom revolving around a bitter homosexual couple slouching their way into their golden years. In a massive coup, ITV has managed to cast two of Britain's greatest thespians in the main roles: Sirs Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi.
Variety reports that ITV has signed Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi to headline the upcoming comedy Vicious. The series will be penned by former Family Guy writer-producer Gary Janetti, who previously helped head Will and Grace. The show will be overseen by producer Ed Bye and will also star Frances De La Tour (Madame Maxine of the Harry Potter series).
Originally titled Vicious Old Queens, the show will concern a homosexual couple who have lived together in London for 50 years. Long since retired, the duo have taken to a life of boring hobbies and petty arguments. Just when it seems that the two have finally had enough of each other, the arrival of a young man to their apartment building upsets the established routine of their lives.
The star power of the attached leads is undeniable. Ian McKellen barely needs any introduction – a distinguished veteran of British theater, he went on to become a cult figure with his star-making turns in The Lord of the Rings and X-Men. Though his career has not been quite as flashy as McKellen's, Derek Jacobi is every bit as accomplished. He was a protégé of Laurence Olivier and has enjoyed a long, varied career in film and television. Readers may recognize him from The King's Speech, Gladiator, and Doctor Who. Both McKellen and Jacobi have been knighted for their contributions to British drama.
The overwhelming bona fides of both McKellen and Jacobi are only part of why their casting is such a boon for Vicious. Their own personal experiences will no doubt color their performances – both men are openly gay and have lived with longtime partners for some years. McKellen in particular has been a vocal proponent for LGBT rights and has been recognized by British gay advocacy groups.
Of course, this all leads up to what may be the most important point of all: These are two very serious dramatic actors who are no doubt about to play spectacularly against type. Granted, Ian McKellen has been known to lightly lampoon his previous accomplishments (his hosting appearance on Saturday Night Live riffed wonderfully on his Gandalf and Magneto roles), but neither he or Jacobi are known for outright comedic performances.
This raises the question as to whether the duo will be able to shift gears for a full-on screwball comedy – and also as to what kind of comedy Vicious will end up being. One imagines that the show will have to walk a fairly narrow path to avoid being either too dry or falling the other direction into ridiculous camp. It's certainly one to watch develop – if only for the potential of its dynamite leading cast.
Though Vicious does not yet have a firm release date, it is expected to air late in 2013.