In the UK, we often celebrate the restraint of shows like Fawlty Towers that call it a day after a couple of series, and give cult status to the single-series efforts, like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, that only gained the fans they deserved long after original broadcast.
Live studio sitcoms might be the exception. Not Going Out, along with Mrs Brown’s Boys, feels like it’s been a BBC staple forever. While it hasn’t always enjoyed strong critical reception, its crowd-pleasing blend of farce, one-liners, slapstick and innuendo continues to pull in strong ratings. Still, it’s vanishingly rare for a comedy show to make it 100 episodes.
Not Going Out has reached that milestone, becoming the second longest-running British TV sitcom ever, outdone only by Last of the Summer Wine. The show began in 2006 as a sort of odd couple sitcom, with Lee Mack playing a fictionalised version of himself, an act-first-think-later protagonist to Tim Vine’s neurotic accountant.
In 2023, Mack’s character is happily married to Lucy (Death in Paradise’s Lucy Bretton) and they’ve moved to the suburbs with their three kids. Not Going Out has been a great vehicle for Mack, harnessing the cheeky quips and pull-back-and-reveal punchlines he’s perfected in his live act to furnish the TV series with a rapid-fire helping of jokes.
The 100th episode was a Christmas special – and not the series’s first. Previous festive outings spiralled into disaster thanks to surprise visits from Lee’s renegade dad, an armed robbery in a department store, Christmas gift mistakes, and Lucy and Lee’s attempts to organise a Christmas show for their children’s school.
“I promised them this year would be different,” said Lee, as he attempted to hide the evidence of one of his biggest disasters yet. This Christmas, Lee’s family hosted Lucy’s parents, but they’d also agreed (Lee, begrudgingly) to be good Samaritans for the day, welcoming an elderly man named Wilfred from the local care home.
Throughout the years, the sitcom has featured many of the big faces in UK comedy – Tim Vine, Katy Wix, Miranda Hart. Hugh Dennis has been a regular since series seven, playing family friend Toby, and his straight-man gynaecologist character was put to good use in this episode, providing a welcome tonal shift and talking Lee down from his most ludicrous ideas.
Lee’s desperation to save face was the driving narrative force, leading him to lie, scheme and ultimately make things worse for everyone involved. While some of the close shaves were played well for laughs, eventually it felt a little repetitive – the same misdirection employed one too many times.
Naturally, sitcom plays with caricature, but the couple’s three kids were surprisingly two-dimensional here, cast as smartphone-obsessed pests, filming and photographing at the most inappropriate moments. At times, the reactions of Lucy and her parents to Lee’s antics also felt incongruous – knowing him as they do, why would they buy his more outlandish cover stories?
There were enjoyable moments of excruciating tension, though. It dared to play with surprisingly dark subject matter and maintained a compelling pace. Lee’s confession scene, which brought the episode to a sudden close, was a strong finish.
Is it possible for a sitcom to feel fresh and exciting after 100 episodes? Not Going Out didn’t exactly achieve that. It has always leaned into the familiar embrace of a bygone era of television-making, but it did provide a pleasantly farcical foray into a home that’s now familiar to so many viewers.
When you’re full of Christmas treats and getting cosy on the sofa, an easy watch with consistent laughs might be the perfect companion.