The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle



Airdate: 9-10 p.m., Sun, Sept 7 (Sundance Channel)

Heads up before tuning in: BBC's Worldwide America's new and  hilarious comedy series, "The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle" is  smart stuff and funny all around. Airing on the Sundance Channel,  the series takes a pot shot at "confessional television" shows (of  the Maury Povich-Jerry Springer ilk). Vivienne's last name isn't  Vyle for nothing. This new kid on the block, which unfortunately  runs only six weeks, undoes the world of daytime talk shows by  getting down and dirty with them all.

Vivienne (played with superb timing by the very funny Jennifer  Saunders) is as caustic as the guests who show up on her television  show. What's more, Vivienne has just about had it, especially when  one of her rather rotund guests falls on her during one of the  programs. She ends up in the hospital, and before us we begin to see  her life itself spilling out onto the small screen.

Coming up right behind Saunders is the always terrific Miranda Richardson, who plays Vivienne's producer, Helena. She's about as much on the edge as Vivienne. Neither woman looks as if she can stand another minute of "show biz" and each of the women has become exceedingly jaded, even caustic.Could it be that the television host and her guests, not to mention  her staff, are about to merge? Stay tuned, because with only six episodes to go around, Vivienne is going to whiz by faster than we think.

Written by Jennifer Saunders and Tanya Byron, the material here is  almost goo savvy to be true. "Life and Times" might even seem to  verge on the edges of reality television if we didn't know better and  know that this is fiction that understands exactly who the enemy is.

Director Rupert Jones has an exceedingly deft touch with the material, and he knows just how to get inside of Vivienne's head, both emotionally and psychologically. And hers is a head worth getting into. She's smart, funny, complicated, and just enough (the British do that so well) to keep her interesting. In fleshing her out, Saunders is visually compelling, coming up with a gamut of facial expressions that earmark her mental exhaustion and her  still-intact sense of humor.

The entire enterprise known as "Vivienne Vyle" is ruthlessly clever  without being nasty, poking fun at a form of television that we can't  seem to shake anywhere in the world -- probably because it fits our sensibilities too well at this point in history. Our psyches have merged with the art of public confession and we can't seem to get  enough of it. As Vivienne would be quick to point out, we gotten (maybe too much of what we've wished for. Too late now; we're the  next media sensation, and sensational shows need a host who's up to the task.

Production: BBC/Saunders and French Co-Production. Cast: Jennifer Saunders, Miranda Richardson, Conleth Hill, Jason Watkins. Director: Rupert Jones. Writers: Jennifer Saunders, Tanya Bryon. Producer: Jo Sargent.