Nothing makes TV critics wave their fists and grind their molars into calcium supplement like a show that’s resoundingly so-so. What can we say? There are some reasonably nice touches, some above average camera work and that gorilla costume in the fifth scene is just… lovely. There's nothing to lash, tease or stroke with our stable of fancy adjectives and similes. That’s why Vexed is such a sweet, oozy treat. It’s saturated awfulness: lazy, tedious and--forgive me--turd-like.
First, let me tell you something--okay everything--about the opening scene (spoiler alert. But really, you won't care). A young professional couple are on a flat viewing. At least, we assume that’s why they admiring an oven and looking lustfully at the his-and-hers bathroom sinks. Moments later, we’re in the living room and the camera pans down to reveal a woman’s extremely bloody and dead body slumped on carpet. Boom! "Well," someone (I forget who) jests, “she won’t be signing a new lease any time soon.” (Or words to that effect). Oh, I see. This is a sketch show? This opening gag has a Smack the Pony or Man Stroke Woman feel, only cruder. Look everyone; property-hungry London yuppies are willing to overlook a corpse in the lounge so long as there’s trendy wallpaper on the chimneybreast.
If I was right and this was just a poor opening sketch, then it was forgivable, so long as the next one was a rib-rocker. But according to the promotional blurb (I paused the DVD and checked) this is a comedy drama about two recently partnered detectives, Jack and Kate. So, they’re not a couple and this definitely isn’t a sketch show. Oh.
Jack (Toby Stephens) is an unimaginative interpretation of a misogynist, egomaniac and borderline womaniser. Kate (Lucy Punch) is insecure, takes life too seriously and worries that she’s in a bad marriage. This is their first case together and they're hunting a serial killer who's offing chocolate-scoffing, self-help book-reading, single women. The crime part of the storyline has the sophistication of something scribbled on the back of a bus ticket. But that shouldn’t matter because Vexed is all about the relatable, quirky, funny characters. Only, they're none of these things. There’s no warmth, wit or intrigue and their insights are throbbing clichés.
Perplexingly, this is by the same whizz, Howard Overman, who wrote Misfits. But there’s not a snatch of dialogue or set up that won’t make you cringe. Each scene feels like a draft that should have been flushed or at least heavily reworked. Spiky, daredevil comedies--Pulling, The Office, Weeds--only work when the characters, while exaggerated and unpleasant, are stirringly written and lovingly shaded. Jack and Kate lack the depth required to star in an advert for corn plasters. And their chemistry is pure anaesthetic.
Vexed airs at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD on Sunday, August 15.