Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle, The (DVD)
The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle
is one of British TV's most savage, and most magnificent, TV series. In the way that Ricky Gervais' The Office
skewers the corporate life, Vivienne Vyle
takes on daytime TV, the sleazification of talk shows, and the insatiable drive for those with fame for more of the same. Yet Vivienne Vyle
is far darker than its counterparts--the humor is black and bleak, the satire biting yet riveting. The series is a splendid showcase for the many talents of star Jennifer Saunders, whose Absolutely Fabulous
airhead persona only slightly informs the character of the back-biting, driven, yet deeply emotionally needy talk show host Vivienne Vyle. It's a performance TV fans won't soon forget.
Vyle is the host of a cheesy British talk show (the name "Vyle" can't be a coincidence), and Saunders' character is a cross between Jerry Springer and Sally Jessy Raphael--taunting guests about their children's paternity, their spouses' fidelity, and worse. "How does it feel to be a worm? Because that's what you are, you know," she goads one hapless guy, with a shaved head except for five stalactites of bangs across his dim forehead. As with Vivienne Vyle's American counterparts, fisticuffs often break out, though the British audience, while eating up the spectacle, is oddly and politely quiet. The worse the antics of the guests, the more the ratings of Vyle's show climb. And Saunders is a wonder at portraying, almost sympathetically, the ego-driven force behind the sleaze. Her marriage may be one simply of convenience, and as she recovers from a brutal beating she received on one show, all she can plaintively think about is having a baby. Saunders' Vivienne may be a media monster, but she has dark yearnings like the rest of us. Also terrific is Miranda Richardson, who plays the Vivienne Vyle show's manic, ditzy producer, Helena. As with Saunders, Richardson gives a top-notch performance that's not always easy to watch. The set features six 30-minute episodes, which though biting, is so well written, directed and acted that it is truly compulsively watchable. --A.T. Hurley