Public Service Announcement 34 of 2012: Vexed

And sometimes things happen which you just can’t explain. Almost exactly two years ago, BBC 2 showed what looked like being the one and only season of Vexed, a misconceived three episode police comedy-drama from the pen of Misfits’s Howard Overman. Our CJ called the first episode “nasty, unfunny, frequently misogynist and stupid”, with lead characters who were “two of the most spectacularly annoying and unlikeable characters ever committed to TV”. Admittedly I was one of the few people who thought the first episode passable, but even I regarded episodes 2 and 3 as pretty poor.

In a climate where even shows with fervent audiences and/or critical approval still get cancelled (the most egregious recent example being The Fades) that, I thought, was that for Vexed. At the start of this year, though, it was announced – to an unusual mix of apathy and incredulity – that Vexed would be back. And now it is, with a new production company, new directors, new writers, and a new female lead (Miranda Raison). Even more startling, this time round there are six episodes. Evidently someone, somewhere, at the BBC thinks that Vexed could work. Surely not? I’m almost tempted to watch out of curiosity (tonight, BBC 2, 9pm).

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Vexed s1 ep 3

The last of the season and, I’d be willing to bet, the last ever, saw Jack and Kate trying to solve the mystery of abducted girl-group popstress Gemma G (“for gorgeous”).  Meantime Jack has been diagnosed with testicular cancer – how we laughed! – and Kate’s planning to go back to Bristol with her husband – yes, the guy who’s still wearing leg braces as a result of her assault on him.  With more plot and more humour than last week’s sorry effort, this wasn’t appalling, but it really wasn’t great.

It’s not difficult to see why Vexed got made: if Howard Overman, hot-to-the-touch after the success of Misfits, pitches you a UK Moonlighting you’re probably going to bite.  But either he was given his head and indulged too much, or no-one else really cared what he was up to; I can’t help but think that a stronger editorial line would have sorted out some of the fundamental problems with Vexed, such as deciding whether the actors should be playing it straight (Lucy Punch) or parodic (Toby Stephens).  And, perhaps, working on the Jack/Kate relationship so that we cared whether they got together or not.

In the final analysis, then, not without interest, and not without laughs, but not a success.

Vexed ep 2

I was in a minority in reckoning that last week’s episode of Vexed was just about passable: while there was a lot which didn’t work, it did make me laugh a few times, and very few shows can do that.  Unfortunately, this episode wasn’t funny.  And that’s a major problem, because there really isn’t much else going on here. 

The “plot” – about a banker being targeted for assassination – didn’t move for about 45 minutes.  There’s a more fundamental problem with the leads, who generated no chemistry whatsoever.  Toby Stephens’s mannered performance as Jack was particularly grating, although frankly Lucy Punch as Kate wasn’t much better: the only reason you can see their characters together is that no-one else could reasonably be expected to tolerate them.  Bizarrely, though, Jack seems to be some sort of low-rent babe-magnet, and Kate’s still just about married to the husband she assaulted last week.  Director Matt Lipsey has described the main characters as “dysfunctional, neurotic, sexist, quarrelsome, self-righteous and paranoid”.  So far so good.  He then spoils it – and shows a worrying level of delusion – by adding that they are also “sexy, bright and warm people you genuinely want to spend time around”.  He has to be kidding.  Even though there’s only one more episode to go, I don’t know if I’ll bother.

Vexed ep 1

Had it not been for the fact that Vexed was advertised just before Sherlock last week, I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it.  But my curiosity was piqued, so I looked it up and decided, on balance, to give it a go.  Curse that trailer before Sherlock, though; Vexed was absolutely awful.

The goal, apparently, was to make a British “Moonlighting for the noughties”, so the main characters, Jack and Kate  – played by Toby Stephens and Lucy Punch – are two bickering, wildly different detectives.  She’s uptight, he’s relaxed; she plays by the book, he’s (groan) a maverick.  Colour me shocked and stunned.  Both of them, however, are united in one thing: they are two of the most spectacularly annoying and unlikeable characters ever committed to TV.  

Vexed’s problems don’t end there though.  This first episode was nasty, unfunny, frequently misogynist and stupid; and the acting so arch that it came across like a particularly bad sketch show.  If you were lucky enough to miss it, don’t do anything to change that.  I won’t be watching it again.