The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle

Tron tells us all about another show from the fruitful Saunders loins.

The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle (2007) is an odd little series of black comedy cruelty Mexomorph and I stumbled across on our quest for French and Saunders and it seems to have polarized the audience fortunate enough to see it. Apparently, Jennifer Saunders doing dark and scathing criticism of daytime talk and the personal success gained from the manipulation of vulnerability and emotion seems to be a love or hate thing. Series detractors seem to want Absolutely Fabulous, or something in that vein, ad nauseam rather than something different and Vivienne Vyle is completely different in tone and subject matter from AbFab, yet still retains a good bunch of the nasty humor that Saunders has made a trademark throughout all her series.

Vivienne Vyle is the host of her own Springer-esque daytime talk show with the usual “My Son Calls the Wrong Man Daddy” and “I Want a Vagina but Can’t Kick the Crack”-style sensationalism but Vivienne sets herself apart from the crowd by being a straight talking, domineering hostess who uses every bad bit of behavior from her guests as an opportunity to grab ratings. She has no problem telling it like it is while offering her own unique brand of advice and it is frequently brought up that her guests and the audience are quite afraid of her. After a brawl breaks out, the show’s hard-drinking, coke-snorting producer (Miranda Richardson) decides to take the program in a new direction while playing up Vivienne’s emphasis on “honesty and openness” and the positive results of her and new psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Fowler’s (Jason Watkins) assistance. The six episodes carry the viewer through this period of struggle, reinvention and ascendance to the top while also exploring Vivienne herself and her relationships with her gay husband Jared (Conleth Hill), her transsexual PR bulldog Miriam (the Young Ones’ Christopher Ryan) and the rest of the quirky cast that help put this show together. The “show withing a show” format gives a sense of the pressure these characters are under to make the program a hit, barely pulling each episode off through a battery of “crises” while lending itself tremendously well to the type of black comedy on display throughout the series.

What pulled me in the most was Vivienne and the way she doesn’t give a shit about anyone but herself. Her skyrocketing fame and her own neuroses are always at odds and the way she manages to tie it all together to further her own career is fascinating. From a fight with her husband over getting the plumbing fixed to a failed meeting with some imported promotional experts, Vivienne figures out a way to turn it in her favor and use it to her advantage. Her husband at one point is caught at a party where a rent boy fell to his death (or as Miriam called it, a “gay orgy balcony horror” or “rent boy death plunge”) and is being threatened with exposure by the Daily News, which both Vivienne and Miriam see as an attempt to tear her down. Miriam’s advice is to come clean, “give it an angle. There was once a time. I was confused and experimenting. I was losing my hair. Tripped on Hampstead Heath and I just fell onto this MP’s cock and it went up my arse,” and Jared reluctantly agreed. Vivienne has a different solution: the last show of the season is live so why not use this potentially scandalous incident on-air for better ratings? Fuck Jared and his problem, how does this benefit Vivienne Vyle? She is unrepentant and ego-driven to the extreme, even though the show does go out of it’s way to illustrate that deep, deep underneath the skin Vivienne is as much a victim of not only her own success but of some of the subjects her guests confront. To me the genius is how she gets past this and furthers her own selfish cravings and need for success. Every solution is good for Vivienne, who cares about anything else? Her character is illustrated perfectly by the conversation Jared and Dr. Fowler have after the live event. Jared comments, “she’s a genius,” while Dr. Fowler observes, “she’s the Devil.”

The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle darkly pulls off the premise of the making of a hit daytime talk show with the usual sharpness and wit of a Jennifer Saunders Production while providing a critical look at the ego-driven nature of success and the public’s desire for trash television. The character of Vivienne Vyle is ruthless, self-absorbed and eminently watchable, as are all six episodes of the inaugural season and rumors abound of a second in the works. Miranda Richardson’s manic and abusive producer is a hoot and Dr. Fowler’s genuine attempts to do some good and provide a moral compass while constantly being shouted down and blatantly ignored provides a lot of rich situational laughs. If you find the cruelty and selfishness of your fellow man as amusing as I do i wholeheartedly urge you to track this series down and indulge in some scathingly written and marvelously acted fun.

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