Top positive review
16 people found this helpful
on July 14, 2010
Everybody loves a good juicy comedy about how stupid and shallow the world of celebrity/showbiz is, but few of them have any real wit. One of the few exceptions is "The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle," a deliciously intelligent, razor-edged black comedy that pulls few punches... and even better, it has Jennifer Saunders as the love-to-hate-her TV host.
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.