Vexed, season 2 episodes 1 and 2
Otherwise known as The Other Howard Overman Series.
Air dates: UK: 1st/7th August 2012, BBC Two
I really like Vexed. No, I'll qualify that by saying I really liked Vexed. The three episodes that appeared in 2010, concerning the misadventures of two mismatched cops played by Lucy Punch (stroppy, with boyfriend problems) and Toby Stephens (seen too many macho cop films), who never went to the police station and confided in a wine-bar owner called Tony (Roger Griffiths), were offbeat, funny and refreshing. So, I was looking forward to this unexpected new run.
Something's different, and it's not just the replacement of Punch's truculent blonde DI Kate Bishop with hyper-organized-Chief-Prefect blonde DI Georgina Dixon (geddit?), played by the wide-eyed Miranda Raison. A look back at episodes from the first series (if you can call three episodes a first series) shows that Punch, an experienced comic performer, was playing along with Toby Stephens' tongue-in-cheek approach to his character Jack Armstrong. This was an effective contrast with the crime procedural plots they found themselves in, an approach that's worked in everything from The Persuaders! to Bad Boys.
So far in its second run, the spring has slightly gone from Vexed's step. It's not Raison's fault: she can be really funny, but for some reason's she's being mostly directed to play the character rather than the comedy, leaving Stephens (once memorably described as "the bastard son of Patrick McGoohan" and clearly the-man-who-should-have-been-Bond) to supply the laughs. Unfortunately, everyone around him now tackling their roles seriously highlights what a boorish anachronism Jack is, not mention making the supporting characters look daft for taking such a Neanderthal seriously as a copper.
This was painfully obvious in the second episode, when the duo went undercover at a university to find the murderer of a gender politics student. The scenes where Jack, posing as a mature student, met his fellow radical feminist study buddies – "ten years, I bet you're all married with three kids" was the mildest of his comments – didn't work either as comedy or drama. There was, however, a genuine laugh-out-loud moment in Jack's speculation about the murder victim: "behind closed doors, I bet she sucked cock like she was stealing petrol," even if it was wildly un-PC.
That's the conundrum at the heart of Vexed. The writers of Life on Mars realized that it would be hard to get away with a character as loutish as Gene Hunt in the present day, but set the show in the coarse 1970s with Sam Tyler as a modern day conscience figure and you could laugh your head off at comments like Jack's, safe in the knowledge that Tyler had his PC head in his hands while you did so. Without a context in which loutish attitudes were rife, the humour revolving around Jack's panto bad boy cop can fall flat.
The actual stories have been variable. The first concerned the murder of a salesman in a top-of-the-range car showroom; cue lots of jokes that stressed the importance of material things over people and a rather predictable outcome that took a back seat to the forging of Jack and Georgina's partnership. The second episode was better – Jack's moronic attitudes aside – with the sexual politics theme also explored in the duo's romantic relationships. Amusingly, in scenes which did make the most of Raison's light comic touch, Georgina finding her ideal New Man left her pining for a boyfriend who "would come round and ignore me while he watched the football", while Jack hooked up with an Amazonian called 'Dan' who was more of a man than he was.
I'm still trying to work out what this meant in the context of a plot where all the radical sexual politicians were exposed as frauds and hypocrites – a revered lesbian lecturer having an affair with a male professor, the professor having an affair with his (murdered) student, celibate students having affairs etc. etc. Put like that it sounds heavy handed, not to mention very reactionary, but, of the two, the second episode was more or less back on track as an engaging – if flawed – comedy drama.
I'll continue to watch Vexed. It's not perfect and it's got some in built handicaps, for sure. Having said that, it'll be interesting to see how Stephens and Raison's slowly more appealing double act works out.
Here's a clip from season 2, muthafunster:
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