Tag Archives: Will & Grace

Vicious fun with McKellen and Jacobi on PBS

Ian McKellen and Derek Jaobi

Sirs Ian McKerlen and Derek Jacobi star as devoted but bickering partners of nearly 50 years in the new Britcom ‘Vicious,’ premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates.

Two knights of the British theater, Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, cut loose as a bickering elderly gay couple in Vicious, a new half-hour Britcom premiering tonight on most PBS affiliates (check local listings).
Created by an American, former Will & Grace executive producer Greg Janetti, the farcical comedy (which originally had the working title Vicious Old Queens) follows fading actor Freddie Thornhill (McKellen) and his partner of 48 years, Stuart Bixby (Jacobi), who share an overstuffed, overdecorated two-level London flat with their 20-year-old dog, Balthazar. The series opens on the day of a funeral for Clive St. Clair, who worshipfully adored Freddie from afar and carried a lifelong torch for him – at least, according to Freddie. Joining Freddie and Stuart for the wake is their best friend of several decades, Violet Crosby (Frances de la Tour, The History Boys), but all three of them immediately become distracted by the arrival of a new neighbor in the apartment building: Ash Weston (Iwan Rheon, Game of Thrones), a very handsome working-class lad of indeterminate amorous inclinations.
When Stuart ponders whether Ash is gay or straight, Freddie immediately promises to solve the mystery.
“After all, I did spend a year playing the detective in The Mousetrap,” he tells Stuart, referencing the venerable Agatha Christie play that has been running continuously in London since 1952.
“Oh, please,” Stuart snaps back. “Our POSTMAN has been in The Mousetrap.
Although it is set in the present, in general tone and broad performance style Vicious is a throwback to such vintage Britcoms of the ‘70s as Are You Being Served? In fact, one episode features Stuart earning some extra cash by working in the men’s section of a department store, and I half expected Mr. Humphries to pop into the scene with his characteristic “I’m free!”
Yet while Mr. Humphries’ off-camera personal life was a matter of sniggering speculation in that bygone sitcom, the loving yet fractious relationship between Stuart and Freddie is very much at the heart of Vicious. These two cranky old gents may get on each other’s nerves, but they also share a long history that stretches back to a time when things were not at all easy for men like themselves.
“The point of those old-fashioned sitcoms was that to be gay was, in itself, funny and that you laughed at the characters rather than with them,” says McKellen, who, like Jacobi, is gay in real life as well. “This is not true of (Vicious), and I don’t think Derek and I would have wanted to be involved in this script if it were old-fashioned in that sense. We don’t get laughs as Freddie and Stuart because we are gay, but because we are the people we are. … It’s just two real men surviving with all the problems that many, many people have.”
Filmed before a live studio audience, Vicious just wants to make you laugh, and it’s a treat to watch these two stage titans setting aside any traces of dignity to achieve that end. McKellen in particular is absolutely hilarious. Watch for an episode in which Freddie auditions to play a character who has a single line on Downton Abbey. He has just barely received the thrilling news that he got the job when Ash turns up at the door to announce that, despite his complete lack of experience, he has just been hired for a part in an independent film.
Watching McKellen react to that news is a master class in comedy acting, as Freddie, completely numb, at first thinks he must have misheard, then struggles in vain to process this impossible development and finally chokes back the bitter jealousy he is feeling. The actor does all of this wordlessly, too. It’s an absolutely brilliant moment.
Vicious was an runaway smash when it ran in the UK, where it already has been picked up for a second season. Meanwhile, don’t miss this chance for the next few weeks to watch McKellen and Jacobi as you’ve never seen them before.
'Vicious' on PBS

Frances de la Tour and Iwan Rheon (back row) co-star in ‘Vicious’ with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi on PBS

Picking ‘Weeds: The Complete Collection’ on Blu-ray

'Weeds: The Complete Collection' comes to Blu-ray today from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Lionsgate Home Entertainment today releases ‘Weeds: The Complete Collection’ in a Blu-ray box packed with extra features.

When Weeds premiered on Showtime in 2005, few people saw a hit in the offing. The show’s creator, Jenji Kohan, had won an Emmy for working on the Tracey Ullman HBO series Tracey Takes On…, but she was known mainly for being the kid sister of Will & Grace co-creator David Kohan. And the premise of the show – a widowed soccer mom turns to selling marijuana to support her family – seemed risky and weird. Even series star Mary-Louise Parker admits she told her agent at the time there was “no way” this show was going to run.
To everyone’s surprise, however, Weeds lit up the ratings, helping to cement Showtime’s growing reputation as a serious player in original programming and winning a Golden Globe Award for Parker, along with multiple other nominations for its cast and creative team. The saga of improbable drug kingpin (queenpin?) Nancy Botwin ran for eight seasons altogether before wrapping things up in September 2012.
Now, in time for the holiday gift season, Lionsgate Home Entertainment releases today Weeds: The Complete Collection, encompassing the entire series on 16 Blu-ray discs packed with special features in a boxed format that takes up just two inches of shelf space. The suggested retail price for the set is $119, but as of this writing, several online retailers including Amazon are carrying this new release at a heavy discount.
The first three seasons of Weeds took place in the Southern California suburb of Agrestic, a community of McMansions housing identical upwardly mobile families dressed in identical clothes and driving identical cars to shop in identical stores. As the series opened, Nancy’s placid middle-class life was rocked when her young husband, Judah, dropped dead of a heart attack while jogging. Lacking any marketable skills, Nancy turned to dealing pot to maintain this empty lifestyle, one of the satiric hooks on which Kohan hung her story. A number of fans complained when the Botwins went on the road starting in season four (which Kohan and two of her fellow producers acknowledge in one of the special features in the set), but Weeds returned to its suburban roots – this time in Connecticut – for its eighth and final season.
Each of the seasons included in this new Blu-ray collection includes its own set of special features including cast commentaries, gag reels and other highlights, but there are four brand-new extras as well, the most valuable being a Weeds cast roundtable with Parker, her two TV sons (Hunter Parrish and Alexander Gould) and Justin Kirk, who played Nancy’s brother-in-law, Andy. Gould, who was only 10 when he started working on Weeds, reveals that his mother, who was always on the set with him, and the show’s production team shielded the child actor from the show’s more adult moments, even when they involved his character, Shane. As a result, he didn’t understand what several scenes even meant until he started watching the show on DVD after he was older.
It’s Parker, however, who has some of the pithiest comments to offer. She loved playing Nancy, whom she calls “dark and perverse,” but suggests that this woman would have been a terrible mother even if her husband hadn’t died. In fact, she says, she suspects it was Judah, not Nancy, who was the more nurturing parent all along.
“I just thought she always had an astonishing lack of ability to prioritize,” Parker says about Nancy’s lackadaisical attitude toward her sons. “She was a parent who procrastinated: ‘I’m going to pay attention to him later when I can x, y and z,’ ” she says.
Technical quality of this Blu-ray box is state of the art in every respect, making this set one of the season’s top home video gift items for any Weeds fan on your list.

Netflix’s ‘Orange’ is the new must-see series

Her brother David is well known in the TV industry as the co-creator of the comedy smash Will & Grace, but Jenji Kohan became a creative force on her own terms when she created Weeds, the audacious long-running Showtime dramedy starring Mary-Louise Parker in a Golden Globe-winning turn as widowed soccer mom Nancy Botwin, who started selling drugs to sustain her upper-middle-class lifestyle after her husband’s death.
Now Kohan is back with another noteworthy series: Orange Is the New Black, which began streaming all 13 episodes of its first season today on Netflix. Adapted from a similarly titled memoir by Piper Kerman, who carries an executive consultant credit here, this new show follows well-bred New Yorker Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling) as she attempts to cope with a 15-month prison sentence for helping to transport a large sum of drug money for her erstwhile lesbian lover, Alex Vause (Laura Prepon, That ’70s Show).
The incident in question happened a decade ago, but Piper – who now is engaged to Larry Bloom (Jason Biggs), a nice Jewish writer who adores her – is charged and pleads guilty not long before the statute of limitations on the crime would have elapsed. Piper tries to put a good face on the situation, assuring Larry that she plans to use the time inside to improve herself via exercise and “reading everything on my Amazon wishlist.” She’s even gone as far as to study for her incarceration, poring over books advising new inmates on the best survival strategies (most of which turn out to be hooey).
Her prison counselor, Sam Healy (Michael Harney), tries to reassure her as well. “This isn’t Oz,” he tells Piper, referring to the gritty and violent HBO prison series of yore. “Women fight with gossip and rumors.”
Unfortunately, some of the inmates have other weapons at their disposal as well, such as bitter Russian kitchen manager Galina “Red” Reznikov (Kate Mulgrew in a startling and bold performance), whom Piper unwittingly and unwisely offends on their very first meeting. That prompts Red to withhold Piper’s access to food, both in the dining hall and in the visiting area vending machines, which mysteriously go out-of-order whenever Piper is nearby.
“I just didn’t expect to get punished while getting punished,” Piper complains to an inmate friend.
While Orange is different in terms of setting and characters, it shares creative DNA with Weeds in the way its central character is an upper-crust young white woman forced by circumstance to dive into a scary and potentially dangerous new world, as well as in its tone, basically a dark comedy with startling moments of violence or explosive drama.
I’ve seen two episodes, so I’m still trying to sort through the huge ensemble cast behind Schilling, but Constance Shulman as Zen-spouting Yogi Jones, Broadway musical veteran Beth Fowler as “killer nun” Sister Ingalls, Natasha Lyonne as recovering heroin addict Nicky Nichols and Uzo Aduba as the sweetly nutty “Crazy Eyes” who comes to Piper’s rescue all have broken out of the pack early.
There’s enough nudity and sexual activity to put this series solidly into the adult category, although somewhat surprisingly Orange Is the New Black is far less salacious than your garden-variety women-in-prison exploitation feature. Instead, this new show presents a diverse slate of complex characters (we learn how they got this way via flashbacks to their lives before prison) delivering sharp, clever dialogue that snaps and stings. Even before the series began streaming this morning, Netflix ordered a second season. Very highly recommended.
From left, Constance Shulman, Kate Mulgrew and Taylor Schilling (back to camera)