If you liked “Are You Being Served?” you’ll love “Vicious.”
Cut from the same sturdy Britcom cloth, the new comedy from “Will & Grace” writer Gary Janetti has so many delicious one-liners you’ll want to keep a notepad nearby just to get them all down.
Veteran actors Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi play bickering partners who don’t hesitate to say what they think. They love each other, but have dispensed with formality. “Do you think I can pass for 50?” one says. “I’m not even sure you can pass for alive,” the other responds.
When Jacobi’s mother calls, McKellen says, “Tell her I said hello and ‘Walk toward the light.’”
McKellen’s Freddie is an aging actor who can’t quite muster more than bit parts. Jacobi’s Stuart is his stay-at-home keeper.
When a new neighbor moves in, Freddie is keen to see if the youngster recognizes him as the “10th favorite villain on 'Doctor Who.'” Needless to say, he doesn’t. But that doesn’t stop Freddie from playing the fame game.
He hustles to get a role in “Downton Abbey” (as Cook Staff No. 4) and enlists the newcomer, Ash (Iwan Rheon), to help him with his line. The experience is enough to prompt Ash to try acting, too. Sure enough, he lands a role. In a movie. That sends Freddie into a tailspin and Stuart into crisis management mode.
Situations are little more than opportunities for the two actors to unleash venom. They’re great (McKellen in particular) and particularly facile when Francine de la Tour and Marcia Warren turn up as longtime friends.
De la Tour’s Violet tries to woo Ash but he’s not sure what to do with her. The cat-and-mouse game continues throughout the series, giving both actors as much laugh time as the show’s stars.
Interestingly, if you binge-watch “Vicious,” you’ll note the episodes are shockingly similar in format: Freddie or Stuart has a meltdown and the other has to reel him in.
When the two go shopping for a new coat, Freddie is taken aback by the clothes they see on other shoppers. “Are they all prostitutes?” he asks.
When he’s reintroduced to someone he knows all too well, Freddie says, “We’ve met so many times I almost feel like we’re an item.”
The patter diverts from the lack of plotting. “Vicious” is pretty claustrophobic, too. Each episodes start with a catty exchange, then someone shows up at the door. An age-related slight is delivered and the game begins.
How these two fit into a world that may have passed them by is fun, but Janetti needs to get them out of the apartment more often. At home, they’re left to gnaw at each other.
In the “real” world they can take on others – deliciously, too. “All the young people skittering about, desperate to get back on the Internet,” Freddie says as he ventures into a store. When Stuart gets a job, Freddie’s practically sympathetic: “He’s just a shop girl.”
While “Vicious” plots don’t stick, they do entertain. If you don't openly laugh once during an episode, you aren't watching close enough.
Both McKellen and Jacobi are masters. “Vicious” may not be their finest half-hour but it sure primes them – and us – for something better.
"Vicious" airs at 9:30 p.m. June 29 on PBS.