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Series / Vicious

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Front L-R: Freddie, Stuart, and Penelope.
Back L-R: Violet, Ash, and Mason.

Ash: I want to have the kind of love they do one day.
Freddie: [Enters] Where is that miserable piece of shit?!
Stuart: Right here, you walking corpse.

Vicious (originally Vicious Old Queens) is a Brit Com/Dom Com that aired for two series on ITV in the UK and on PBS in the US from April 2013 to December 2016. Starring Shakespearian Actors/nerd icons Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi, the series follows a wealthy-albeit-bitter gay couple and their friends.

The starring couple consists of Freddie (McKellen), who is a failing yet egotistical actor, and Stuart (Jacobi), who is still struggling to come out to his mother. The cast also includes their old friends Violet, Penelope, and Mason, and their young neighbour Ash.

Whilst the show is essentially about vicious old homosexuals sniping and insulting one another, the presence of McKellen and Jacobi affirms that it's better than it sounds. Also, despite the pilot receiving a mixed critical response, the show currently has a strong fan following.

As with many British shows, it aired for two short series, along with a Christmas special and a Grand Finale, for a total of 14 episodes. There was also a two-year gap between Series 1 and Series 2, due to the cast's obligations in other high-profile productions.

This series provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Violet to Ash. They eventually become friends.
  • Accidental Athlete: In 2.1, Stuart and Violet keep insisting that Ash, who is pretending to be a trained gymnast, show off. As it turns out, Ash is quite good at backflips.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: This happens several times with Freddie and Stuart both, who both enjoy being recognized as better than the other at everything or anything. Although Freddie is, in fact, a narcissist at all times.
    • Inverted in 1.3, as Freddie becomes Ash's mentor, but becomes jealous when Ash lands his first role in a small movie. Ash winds up losing confidence instead.
    • In 2.3, Freddie inverts the trope again while Stuart plays it straight.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Parodied in 2.1, when Ash brings Jess to meet "the most important people" in his life, only to be drawn into playing the part of Violet's stepson to impress Violet's sister. As part of the con, Violet pulls him into an awkward kiss, and makes up embarrassing infantilizing anecdotes about him. Then, she and Stuart egg him into performing a backflip, which could have ended horribly.
  • Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better:
    • Freddie and Stuart.
    • Violet and Lillian.
  • Ashes to Crashes: In "Ballroom", Freddie gives Ash his mother's wedding ring, the container for which doubles as the urn for her ashes, much to Ash's surprise.
    Ash: What's all that?
    Freddie: My mother.
  • Awful Wedded Life: The show demonstrates that this trope is not necessarily heteronormative, given how much Freddie and Stuart fight.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Though somewhat rare considering how bitter they are, Freddie and Stuart occasionally invoke this to the extent they even act affectionate with each other on occasion.
    • Also invoked during the first series finalé:
    Freddie: You do know we love you all very much, right?
    [Everyone smiles]
    Freddie: ...RIGHT?!
    [They agree in fear]
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Ash in 2.2 and 2.6.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Episode 6 has a heartwarming scene where Ash is extremely nice to Violet, only for Violet to press him against the wall and make out with him.
  • Black Comedy: The show utilizes this trope often, as it is a Brit Com.
    • Freddie and Stuart enjoy insulting and degrading each other, as well as their close friends. Freddie is especially sadistic regarding this.
    • It is implied that Ash suffered parental neglect/abuse. His trauma is often exposed set to Laugh Track.
    • Stuart's mother dies before his wedding, and Ash and friends try to hide it until after the ceremony.
    • Violet's abusive, disappearing husband Jasper is originally Played for Laughs. However, when Jasper goes too far, and it enters the realm of drama, he is Punched Across the Room by Ash to defend Violet's honor, and the cake is destroyed.
  • Beautiful Sexual Assault Victim: Invoked in a Crosses the Line Twice example from Violet:
    Violet: I'm so frightened of being raped!
    Freddie: For god's sake, Violet, no-one wants to rape you.
    Violet: ...What an awful thing to say.
  • Black Comedy Rape: Several rape jokes in the first episode.
    Violet: You let a stranger use your loo? What if he comes out and rapes me?!
    Freddie: (Beat) Let's cross that bridge when we come to it.
    • Violet sexually harassing or assaulting Ash becomes a Running Gag.
    • Violet tricks Ash into getting drunk, resulting in a Bedmate Reveal. Violet spends the next episode taunting an amnesia-inflicted Ash about it, only to invert the trope by revealing she was lying and nothing happened between them. His horrified reactions and trauma are Played for Laughs.
  • Blatant Lies: Frequently Played for Laughs.
    Freddie: I'm quite certain I'm old enough to be your father.
    Stuart: [muttering] Yes, I'm quite certain too.
    Ash: My father's forty-six.
    Freddie: Ah! And so am I!
  • Book Ends: In the first episode, when Ash accidentally opens the curtains to the massive window in their living room, Freddie and Stuart both run back into the kitchen away from the bright light. In the last episode, after some (slight) defrosting and Stuart finally revealing to his mother he's gay, they're in such a good mood at their anniversary they decide to open the curtains again.
  • Bowdlerise: Due to the somewhat risky title of Vicious Old Queens, the show title was later changed to the shorter and milder Vicious.
  • Brainless Beauty: Ash has moments of this, such as not knowing how Freddie and Stuart can tell that he just came back in from the rain (as he's soaking wet).
    • Also Chloe.
  • But Not Too Gay: Surprisingly Averted; despite having the excuse that Freddie and Stuart borderline hate one another, the writers still have them occasionally displaying affection (and even sharing the occasional kiss).
  • The Cameo: Dame Judi Dench as herself. See The Stinger.
  • Camp Gay / Straight Gay: Stuart and Freddie respectively.
  • Carrying a Cake: Mason and Penelope in 2.6.
  • Casting Gag: Sir Ian McKellen, one of the greatest theater and film actors today, playing a faded actor whose career peak was a minor character on Doctor Who. Both Jacobi and McKellen have had single-episode guest parts on Doctor Who.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The Grand Finale was much more dramatic than most of the series proper.
  • Chained to a Bed: A rare example of this happening to a woman, Violet falls victim to a Spanish conman who steals her money and passport and leaves her stuck.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Penelope isn't all quite there and is often forgetful due to her dementia.
  • The Comically Serious: Mason.
  • Corrupt the Cutie: Freddie and Stuart considered this their end goal in regards to Ash. When he finally snaps and snarks about the Running Gag regarding him and Violet, Freddie's response was to give him a hug and say "About time, welcome to the family!" Mason lampshades it, saying it's sad they're going to turn the sweet Ash into a gargoyle like them.
  • The Couch
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: The normally dotty Penelope will have the occasional moment of clarity, often at the most inopportune time for somebody else. Lampshaded when people wonder why her memory is so vivid all of a sudden.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Everyone but Ash. And even him, by the finale.
  • Dinner and a Show: This is the plot of the Christmas special.
  • Dirty Old Man: Freddie and Stuart only first invite Ash in because he's handsome and young.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Violet takes this up to eleven, and is downright sleazy towards Ash.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: When Ash comes into the nightclub soaking wet, a girl at the nightclub as well as the camera, Freddie, and Stuart spend a few moments staring at him.
  • The Faceless: Balthazar the dog is constantly sleeping in his basket under a blanket, but he's purportedly balding and teetering on the brink of death.
  • Flying Under the Gaydar: Stuart's mother still has no idea that her son and Freddie are partners. Stuart has been telling her that Freddie is his "flatmate" for the last 48 years.
  • Friends Are Chosen, Family Aren't:
    • Stuart, when his mother comes to visit. Also Freddie to a degree.
    • Violet, when her sister comes to visit. She subverts the trope by pretending to be happier and better off during the visit.
    • It only takes a reminder of his mother to put Ash in a bad mood.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Subverted in the Christmas Special when Violet slapped Ash when he was having a Freak Out about ruining Christmas dinner; when Ash was thanking her for helping him calm down, she slapped him again, indicating she was actually Dope Slapping him.
  • The Ghost: Stuart's mother. Until the finalé, when she attends their party.
  • Hypocritical Heartwarming: Freddie ends up giving a speech to Stuart's mother that makes it very clear that, since he loves Stuart so much, only he is allowed to verbally abuse him.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Episode 5 concludes with Ash and his new girlfriend arguing and tearing into one another, to which Freddie and Stuart comment:
    Stuart: Do you hear how they talk to each other?!
    Freddie: Kill me if that's ever us.
    • Also, from the same episode:
    Chloe: I just don't see how two people in love can ever say cruel things to each other.
    Freddie: I was saying the same thing the other day to the piece of shit down there.
  • Insistent Terminology: In episode five, when discussing Violet:
    Freddie: You're lucky you're straight Ash, otherwise you get one of these women who latch on to you for decades and never let go.
    Ash: But you love her?
    Freddie: Yes. We like her.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Ash is Freddie and Stuart's much younger neighbor who befriends them after he moves into the flat above them.
  • Large Ham: Expected when the two leads are Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi.
    • World of Ham: Except for Ash, though he can have his moments. Freddie is something of a Ham-within-a-Ham. While everybody on the show is hammy, Freddie's theatrical mannerisms means he's over-dramatic even by everybody else's standards.
  • Last Episode, New Character: Oliver appears during the final quarter of the series finale and provides a lot of Call Backs to classic moments, including the infamous "You remember our friend Violet?" gag and Freddie's appearance as a villain on Doctor Who being mentioned.
  • Manly Tears: Stuart in the last episode of series 2 when he goes to phone his mother, only to remember that she died earlier in the episode. His open sobs are devastatingly sad to watch, made even sadder by Freddie hugging, kissing and reassuring Stuart.
  • May–December Romance: Violet attempts to invoke this on Ash, but the much younger man is clearly not interested in her.
    [Freddie and Stuart discuss Ash]
    Violet: The one who was flirting with me shamelessly?
    Freddie: No, this is a person who exists.
    • or:
    Violet: You're sitting very far from me, Ash.
    Ash: (wide-eyed with apprehension) I know.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Freddie and Stuart spend the pilot discussing if Ash is gay, straight or even bisexual. He says he's straight, but that doesn't stop them assuming he's Armoured Closet Gay.
    • And again in episode 5:
    Ash: I wanted you to be the first to know. I think I might be—
    Freddie: I KNEW IT!
    Ash: love with my girlfriend!
    Freddie: (Beat) Oh.
    • Eventually they get the message, sort of:
    Stuart: [after Chloe crashes their dinner party] Poor Ash.
    Freddie: Well he wanted to be straight, that what he gets!
  • Monochrome Casting
  • Mrs. Robinson: Violet to Ash.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Ash, relatively speaking, in comparison to Freddie, Violet, and Stuart.
  • Noodle Implements: The only explanation to Clive's death is that he suffered horribly and lost a foot.
  • N-Word Privileges: This show probably would have been considered massively offensive were Ian Mckellan and Derek Jacobi not well known for being openly gay.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Done in "Wedding" to cover up the death of Stuart's mother.
  • Once an Episode: Every episode opens with Stuart talking to his mother on the phone, except for episode 6, where Ash answers instead.
  • Only Sane Man: Ash. Mason thinks he is this, but he's nearly as bad as Freddie and Stuart.
    • Averted sometimes, e.g Series 2, Episode 2: Stuart and Freddy start spending more time with another young man, and Ash goes full psycho.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In episode 3, Freddie has his minor role on Downton Abbey overshadowed by Ash getting a starring role in a small movie; as a result, he starts being nice to everyone, much to their horror.
  • Parental Substitute: Ash outright states that he considers Stuart and Freddie to be his parental figures rather than his birth parents (who are in prison).
  • Phrase Catcher: Stuart, re Violet every time she and Ash are in a scene together:
    You remember our friend, Violet?
  • Precision F-Strike: Dame Judi Dench lands one on Freddie in the first series finale.
    • Freddie lands one on Stuart (causing the studio audience to burst into applause) as both are fawning over their handsome personal trainer.
    • A brilliant one in Series 2 Episode 1: The whole gang spends the episode conducting an elaborate façade to fool Violet's sister, and when Ash's girlfriend finds out, she loves it, rather than being freaked out. For a moment it seems no one is going to Lampshade the crazy, and then Mason steps up:
      Mason: You people are all fucking insane.
    • In "Wedding", Freddie asks of the dress Violet chose for the occasion, "What the fuck is she wearing?"
    • A rare application of the L subrating to the show's TV-14 rating happened to the finale, which includes an unbleeped instance of "dick" spoken by Freddie to Mason for his smart-alecky remark about his arm's appearance in a second Downton Abbey episode.
  • Real Song Theme Tune: The Communards - Never Can Say Goodbye
  • Running Gag:
    • Every episode has one or two instances of Stuart taking a dreadful phonecall, and a Walk-In Chime-In or two from Freddie.
    • Freddie and Stuart being insistent that Ash is gay.
    • 'You remember our friend Violet?' (to Ash.) Lampshaded in episode 6.
    • Penelope's moments of senility; usually in regards to her current location.
    • Violet's ghastly luck with men comes up a lot; which is typically met with next to No Sympathy from everyone else.
  • Sanity Slippage: All characters seem immune to the shenanigans of the show, except for Ash, who subverts this trope by always coming back to sanity by the end of the episode. It's all Played for Laughs.
    • Lampshaded by Stuart in 2.5 when he asks why Ash is acting oddly following a traumatic event.
    Ash: I'm not acting oddly! (Nervous giggling)
  • Selective Obliviousness: Stuart's mother is still totally unaware that Stuart is gay, despite the fact that Stuart is in his early seventies:
    Stuart: Well, I hoped she'd have figured out our situation by now. I have been dropping little clues.
    Freddie: Yes. Like living with a man for 48 years.
    • Violet tends to ignore the obvious signs that Ash is not interested in her.
  • Shout-Out: Many to Doctor Who, especially since Derek Jacobi played the Master and Ian McKellen was the voice of the Great Intelligence.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Ash and his new girlfriend, Chloe:
    Ash: She never drinks, isn't that right Chloe?
    Chloe: It's true. And nothing could give me more of a high than being with Ash...
    Freddie: Have you tried cocaine?
  • Slap Stick: Although there are elements of this in many episodes, in 2.3 Ash finds himself repeatedly getting hurt by Jess on accident, while trying to talk to her.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Freddie's career consisted of "bit parts in Rep and one episode of Doctor Who", according to Stuart. That doesn't stop him from acting as though he had, well, Sir Ian McKellen's career.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Freddie and Stuart at practically all times. The few times they're outwardly kind to each other (or anyone else), their friends get worried.
  • Snow Means Love: In Series 1 Episode 6, when Stuart opens the curtains at the anniversary party, it's snowing outside.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: The PBS broadcast version does this every so often, bleeping out the stronger examples of Precision F-Strike among other things.
  • Stepford Smiler: It's been hinted at that underneath Ash's cheerfulness there is a lot of emotional issues. This may be due to his parents, as he's quick to replace them with Stuart and Freddie.
    • In 1.3, it only takes a few comments to convince Ash he's "a monster" after getting cast in a film. He becomes so self-conscious that he forgets his natural walk. He then later falls into a depression about it all.
    • In 1.5, Ash mentions that his new girlfriend doesn't mind him waking up in the middle of the night screaming.
    • In the Christmas Special, Ash becomes so hysterical and self-loathing after messing up Christmas dinner that Violet slaps him to calm him down. He also stops while describing his last Christmas with his family and how drunk his mother was to say with great anguish "Why wasn't I enough for you, Mum?" before immediately regaining his composure.
    • In 2.2, Ash appears hurt when Freddie and Stuart would rather train with the smooth talking fitness instructor instead of him. These feelings cause Ash to confront the fitness instructor and threaten him. Ash later asks Freddie and Stuart if they preferred the fitness instructor because he was also gay, and is visibly relieved when they tell him they like him.
  • The Stinger: The first season finalé ends with the reveal that Judi Dench wanted to attend the party, but since Freddie didn't leave a contact number or address, she got sick of waiting for a reply and decided she doesn't have time for his bullshit.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: In episode 5:
    Stuart: Freddie's scared he's never going to work again. There, how does that feel?
    Freddie: I never said such a thing, and you swore you'd never mention it!
  • Take That, Audience!: Towards McKellen's nerd following:
    Violet: Will there be a lot of single men?
    Freddie: It's a science fiction fan club event; they'll be single but they'll be disgusting.
  • Thicker Than Water: Defied by Freddie, who makes Ash his best man, even though Mason is his brother. A fact that upsets Mason.
  • Timeshifted Actor: In a flashback in episode 5 of series two, younger versions of Stuart and Freddie are played by Samuel Barnett and Luke Treadaway.
  • Transparent Closet: Despite his mannerisms and being in his 70s, Stuart has yet to come out to his mother.
    Freddie: So, who were you squawking on the phone to just now?
    Stuart: My mother, if you must know. She was very distraught.
    Freddie: Why, did you finally tell her about us?
    Stuart: I'm waiting for the right time.
    Freddie: It's been forty-eight years!
    Stuart: And there has not been a right time!
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: In grand British comedy tradition, Freddie and Stuart are both self-absorbed, sarcastic, waspish grumps.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Defied. The Flashback at the end of "Flatmates" shows Freddie and Stuart being Sickeningly Sweethearts. Once they actually settle in though, their very first interaction as a couple is an argument, revealing they were always bitter people.
  • Wardrobe Malfunction: Happens to Ash in "Ballroom".
    Ash: Something feels wrong back there!
  • When I Was Your Age...: Occasionally Invoked towards Ash by others due to the large age gap:
    Violet: Has anybody said you remind them of Zac Efron? [whispering to Stuart] That's a person right? Or is it a place? [to Ash again] Well I'm certain I know you. Have you ever been to Zac Efron? [whispering to Stuart] I'm covered either way now.
  • Vitriolic Husbands: With the occasional Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other.
  • Wham Line: While playing Truth or Dare, Violet asks Stuart if he's ever slept with a woman. Freddie reacts with great hilarity, figuring the swishy Stuart would never had tried such a thing. Turns out Stuart has, and then:
    Freddie: I don't believe you!
    Stuart: It's true.
    Freddie: You're lying!
    Penelope: No, he isn't. (cue jaws dropping around the room, and a truly titanic audience reaction)
  • White Dwarf Star: Freddie's acting career never really took off and his only claim to fame was playing a minor character on Doctor Who. He still sees himself as an award-winning actor with a trophy case.