Sir Ian McKellen has dismissed criticisms aimed at the British comedy Vicious.

Vicious, which premiered Sunday in the United States on PBS, stars McKellen of the X-Men and Hobbit movie franchises and Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius) as an elderly gay couple who have endured a love/hate relationship for nearly 50 years.

The 6 30-minute episode series is written by Gary Janetti, a former writer and executive producer of the Fox animated series Family Guy and NBC's Will & Grace.

The show, which will return for a second season on ITV later this year, received a mixed response from critics, many of whom knocked it for promoting “camp stereotypes.

Speaking to gay glossy The Advocate, McKellen defended the show, saying “these characters are different” from the stereotypical gay characters found in sitcoms 20 or 30 years ago.

“These guys are out and have no problem with being gay. They're not hiding it. They're not making sly jokes about it. The comedy in this can be full-throated and you're not laughing at these guys, you're laughing with them, I hope. Of course, you'll observe that not much of this show advances gay rights, nor will we say that these two men are typical gay men. I certainly hope they're not. They behave outrageously at times, and yet it's amusing to watch because we understand them.”

“Today – just as we've had sitcoms in the past about funny women, funny black people, funny young people, funny rich people, funny poor people, and funny people from the sticks – there can now be sitcoms about two old men who are also gay,” he said.

McKellen, who came out gay in 1988 after working as an actor for decades, added that audiences care about an actor's performance, not the actor's sexuality.

“What's gratifying is that audiences, like I do, don't give a damn about the sexuality of an actor. What they're interested in is the performance,” he said. “If they have some fantasy about an actor, then that's what it is – fantasy. You can have fantasies about somebody whether they're gay or straight, bisexual, transgender, whatever. So it's perfectly possible for a straight actor to successfully play a gay man and it's equally possible for me to play all sorts of straight men like Hamlet, Macbeth, Coriolanus, and King Lear. After all, I wouldn't want to cut myself off from that fascinating phenomenon of heterosexuality.”