ITV’s new sitcom Vicious, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi may have received mixed reviews, but it was a ratings winner for the broadcaster last night.

Monday’s launch episode opened to 5.53 million viewers (23.0%) at 9pm, while a further 344,000 (1.8%) tuned in on ITV +1.

Created by Will and Grace writer Gary Janetti and award-winning playwright Mark Ravenhill, it sees McKellen and Jacobi play Freddie and Stuart, a bickering gay couple who have been together for 50 years.

Several TV commentators have criticised Vicious for pandering to old fashioned gay stereotypes.

However, writing in the Guardian, Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights charity Stonewall said the programme represented progress for gay representation on TV.  

The Independent’s Tom Sutcliffe criticised the show’s excessive use of canned laughter. He said: “The basic schtick in Vicious is high-camp bitchiness, a form that reached an apogee in the American sitcom Will & Grace (on which Gary Janetti also worked). This is a sadly depleted version, though, and it’s delivered by McKellen and Jacobi as if they’re playing in Wembley Stadium and only the upper tiers are occupied, with a heavily semaphored effeminacy that seems to belong to an entirely different era.”

Gabriel Tate, from Time Out, praised the show: “It’s a very traditional studio sitcom setup, made watchable by its stars and enjoyable by a waspish script. Also, in its combination of old age and homosexuality, it could be argued to have broken a little ground.”

He added: “Not that creators Mark Ravenhill and Gary Janetti much care about that: this show is all about low blows and easy laughs – at which it excels.”