POSITIVES: Better use of supporting cast and better scripting than last week.
NEGATIVES: Nothing particularly huge, but still has the feeling of 'finding its feet'.
The second offering of Vicious went off with much more of a bang compared to its premiere episode. With the main characters now broadly established, tonight's plot centred around Freddie's upcoming fan club screening of his Doctor Who episode, having been voted the tenth most popular villain of all time. This appears to have been the high point of his acting career, as Stuart is quick to remind him. This moves the action outside the confines of the flat to an impromptu shopping trip where Freddie finds the perfect coat for the event. The complication, however, is that Stuart can't afford to buy it for him, leading him to take a job in the shop to get together the cash to procure it. This, naturally, involves a fair bit of subterfuge to keep the whole enterprise from Freddie, meaning the stage is set for comic misfortune to abound.
In terms of plot development, this episode had an awful lot more to offer than the first outing. Our big concern was that Vicious would literally flatline in Freddie and Stuart's flat - as entertaining as it might be, there's only so much mileage that can be had from Sir Ian and Sir Derek insulting each other for 25 minutes. Moving outside the flat, albeit for brief scenes, not only alleviated any feelings of claustrophobia but allowed for some genuinely funny situations and witty dialogue from both main and supporting characters.
The secondary plot line of the episode was supplied by Ash's relationship issues. For some reason, Iwan Rheon's portrayal of Ash sat somewhat better this week. In many respects, his character's perpetually wide-eyed expression was probably an understandable reaction from anyone who falls into Freddie and Stuart's madcap world - or as supporting character Penelope rather aptly put it in her routinely deadpan manner, 'It is rather stressful coming here!' Poor Ash becomes embroiled in Freddie's pursuit of Stuart, who Freddie believes is having an affair. Ash also gets taken shopping by Violet (Frances de la Tour) to procure a gift for Ash's on-off girlfriend Tracey, leading to the unfortunate Ash being forced into a pair of Speedos.
It is not only the plot which is wider in scope this week - supporting characters are given more space to shine. Foremost amongst these was Violet, who was not tremendously well-served by last week's script. When she, Ash and the suitably docile Penelope head off shopping, Penelope enquires whether all the girls working in the shop are prostitutes, to which Violet responds that they're not but 'they're all so proud of their vaginas', leading Penelope to muse that she has never actually seen hers. This was worth it simply for Ash's reaction. It also leads us to suspect that Penelope might actually become something of the dark horse of the series; Marcia Warren's comic timing couldn't be faulted.
Naturally, the biggest and best lines were reserved for Freddie and Stuart and were delivered with theatrical aplomb (which in itself did not feel strange this week now that we knew to expect it). It is here that Sir Ian is in his element, when for example walking into the shop for the first time, Freddie quips to Stuart, 'Why is it all so bright and garish? It's like walking into Elton John's dressing room!', or when he tells Stuart to give his mother regards along the lines of 'Tell her I said hello and to walk towards the light...'
There was also something new tonight: there was actually a moment where bitchiness subsided and their relationship became more endearing. Stuart is desperate to keep his job from Freddie because Freddie's acting doesn't really support them, whereas Freddie pretends to go along with the idea that Stuart nearly had an affair in order to save Stuart from the embarrassment of taking the job. Besides, there has to be some comedy value to Sir Ian McKellen shouting 'Don't rush me, you cheating slut!' at Sir Derek Jacobi (simply because it feels wrong), in addition to an innocent shopper getting accused of being a whore - twice. Yes, it was all very random, but in more of a good way than last week - and thank goodness the dog is still alive. (If you watch it, you'll see what we mean.)
In short, what we had here felt much more like what we were expecting from a sitcom. Last week relied on a bit too much on sitting around being vile. This week benefitted from expanding the characters and giving them new situations. There was nothing especially bad about this episode and plenty to find amusing. Vicious still has the feel of a show finding its feet, but that is what you would expect at this stage and shouldn't be taken too seriously as a criticism. Tonight's offering leaves us hopeful of it going from strength to strength. Were we bothered about stereotypes? No, not really.
Vicious is on ITV1 every Monday at 9pm