Brit Fix: ‘Vexed’ is Clever, Sexy, and Weird
I like my British procedural police comedies the way I like my robot-centered Japanese animation – that’s right, Brit Fix is back, and more inexplicable than ever! You know you missed it, you one commenter who piped up, you. Today on the block, in honor of its series two premiere, we’ve got series one of Howard Overman’s Vexed, which first aired on BBC in 2010. Howard Overman both wrote and directed the first series’ three episodes which was just intriguing and weird enough to garner itself a rebooted and better than ever second series. This shouldn’t be surprising that Howard Overman is the writer-creator of another little British show you have maybe heard of (she said patronizingly) Misfits. So obviously the man who brought us a brilliant meta-superhero dramedy would know where it’s at in terms of subverting yet another television sub-genre.
Having a face (and talent, yes, but dear lord his faaaaaace) like Toby Stephens at the helm certainly doesn’t hurt. Did I mention Lucy Punch? My favorite woman ever keeping shit all earnest in series one? She actually didn’t sign on for series two because she’s been cast in Ben and Kate on Fox, so go forth and revel in her comedic splendor, guys. And then maybe watch the 10th Kingdom, wherein she plays Sally Peep, the volatile town slut who is eventually murdered.
But back to the matter at hand! Vexed! Stephens and Punch are homicide detectives – he’s lazy and sex-obsessed and she’s…new to town and on the brink of divorce? It’s like the Odd Couple. If one half of the couple thought they were starring in Angels in America. The tonal dissonance is intentional – with Stephens’ Jack shrugging off the work, and Punch’s Kate ignoring the fissures in her marriage by pretending to care more than she actually does, we get the back and forth banter that is familiar in the oppositional character dynamics of television. But their situation is slightly different than the typical. One gets the sense that Punch’s Kate would be more than happy to laugh and jibe along with Jack, if she weren’t so distracted by her personal life. It humanizes them, it makes them relatable as real people, it makes what could be a tired formula fresh and compelling.
With Punch playing straight man, I worried we wouldn’t get to see her do what I’ve come to believe she does best – manic, unhinged, humor. I was glad to be proved wrong. With her frequent accidental racism towards former cop turned cafe owner Nick, and her pratfalls, Punch’s real strengths shine. It’s a rare pleasure to be able to watch two characters, especially a man and a woman, take turns playing straight to the other and to do it successfully. The show even allows for the two of them to occasionally lose the plot and go quietly mad together – which is lovely. They way they play off of each other actually reminds me – and here’s where my opening line begins to make a modicum of sense – of the relationship between Souske and Kaname in Full Metal Panic – deep love and deep, hilarious, irritation.
I don’ t know if any of that would have been sustainable past a three episode arc – the extent of their first series run together. Aside from their dynamic and their blase approach to death and murder, the show itself adheres to a traditional murder-mystery format, which, while not the worse, can grate, especially in the face of such innovation in terms of partnerships. The second series has been scheduled for a longer run, and Stephens’ has said in interviews that his relationship with Punch’s replacement, Miranda Raison, employs a much more straight-forward “will they won’t they” approach. While I’m partially sorry to hear this, I’m loath to believe that Stephens or Overman would settle for anything ordinary, and will definitely be checking out series two.