The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle
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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
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Vivienne Vyle (Saunders) is a daytime TV host who specializes in shows like "My Son Calls The Wrong Man 'Daddy'," overseen by her insane, frazzled producer Helena de Wend (Miranda Richardson). Then during a show, she's assaulted by a guest and a large security guard accidentally falls on her head. She also almost has a breakdown, leading a psychiatrist to be assigned to follow her during her work.
Having gotten a sudden burst of fame from her accident, Vivienne decides that she wants to take her show to the next level -- she tries to talk to the audience, has a disastrous interview with a tabloid reporter, wins "Best Daytime Talk Show" (only to ditch the awards ceremony), and suffers from an attack of "success." But being a host also means that her gay husband Jared (Conleth Hill) comes under scrutiny...
In case you're wondering, "The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle" is not merely a showbiz version of "Absolute Fabulous." It's more like "The Office" -- a witty Britcom without a laugh track or punchlines -- but instead of looking at the world of commerce, it's focused on the entertainment world in all its sleazy shallow glory.
And just about everything on popular TV is mocked -- the bottom-feeding themes, the stars insulated from "real life," the pathetic people who humiliate themselves on TV for a few seconds of vulgar fame. The dry sense of humor permeates the entire series (Jared's attempts to fix the plumbing) and there's plenty of darkly mocking dialogue ("Why haven't we started the production meeting?!" "Because you weren't HERE." "Does everything have to fall apart because I'm not here?" "You're the PRODUCER").
The main problem with this show, however, is that it isn't entirely sure whether it wants to be a dry comedy or a drama. Most of the time it's darkly funny, but there are stretches that are just bleak (Jonathan talking about encountering the children of junkies) or pure belly-laugh (Vivienne having a musical hallucination).
Jennifer Saunders is probably one of the few great comedians of our times, and she succeeds in making Vivienne more than a caricature. Yes, she's an egotistical, ambitious, bratty woman who sees nothing odd about having a fifteen-foot photo of herself wallpapered in her apartment, but somehow Saunders makes you like her despite that, particularly during some touching moments with Jared.
Richardson is gloriously ditzy, dizzy and eccentric, a career woman who's getting nothing done (her kid only speaks Spanish and thinks the nanny is her mom) and always looks like she just rolled out of bed. Hill is rather sweet as Vyle's insanely patient husband, although I never figured out why she married a gay guy.
"The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle" is a satirical, biting show that sometimes vacillates between drama and comedy, but is still deliciously warped anyway. Not a comedy for people who like pratfalls and silly faces.
These 2 writers have managed to create something that American Comedy used to do in the 70's; manage to obtain the holy grail of comedy.
Creating a show that is funny as hell and still have social relevance.
I loved Absolutely Fabulous for its' sheer wit and 'over-the-top' characters.
But this series manages to take a real topic, exagerate it just abit and show us how silly we can be as a species.
WELL DONE LADIES!