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Just Janice: Hurrah for a prime-time gay TV sitcom

At last - a British TV sitcom about two marvelous old queens, airing on primetime, and it’s taken acting and writing royalty to do it.

Picture: ITV
Picture: ITV

Vicious, which begins on ITV on Monday, stars Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi as Freddie and Stuart, a gay couple who’ve lived together for almost 50 years. 

Freddie is an ac-torrr; Stuart, his long-suffering one-man support network, and, for them, bickering has become a way of life. It’s sure to be criticised in some quarters for portraying gay men as pursed-lipped, bitching stereotypes, but it looks as if it’s going to be a ground-breaking show for the UK.

That’s because the humour stems from their relationship, rather than what’s been the norm since the dawn of television, which is that gay characters in sit-coms have been there to be laughed at. And this show is as much about fear of growing old, as it is about camp one-liners. Vicious is written and co-produced by Gary Janetti, who wrote Will & Grace, and is co-created by British playwright, Mark Ravenhill.

It takes heavyweight talent like that for a show with gay leads to be commissioned - meanwhile, the truly innovative gay-themed shows are airing on the internet - and it’s the USA that’s taken the lead. Where The Bears Are - about three hirsute, gay, sleuthing pals - describes itself as part Golden Girls, part Murder, She Wrote. How can you resist?

Husbands, The Outs and Hunting Season are three more web shows about gay characters, which are building large, and diverse, audiences. And respect, too, to Modern Family, one of the most popular shows on US primetime TV, which was one of the first to feature a gay couple bringing up a child.

So if the representation of gay people on TV is finally changing - are there any comedy taboos remaining? Well, I tell you what I’d like to see - the brilliant, beautiful, “wobbly”, comedian Francesca Martinez, starring in her own sitcom. It’s been in the pipeline for a while, but never made it to the screen, because, according to the comedian (who has cerebral palsy) commissioners aren’t comfortable with her character not being portrayed as a ‘victim’ of her condition, rather than a funny woman living life to the full. Perhaps Francesca will have to follow the lead of some of those US web-dramas, and crowd-source it into existence.

The ghastly spring weather is proving to be a benefit for one unusual work of art.Get along to Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, to see and hear the Finnieston Crane as never before. American sound artist, Bill Fontana, has attached super-sensitive microphones to it, and placed a camera beneath it and looking up. The current gusts of wind are adding to the ghostly “tune” emanating from the giant structure.

Check out the GOMA website for details, and if you can’t make it to the gallery, you can also view and listen online. It’s strangely mesmerising.

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