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Friday, 13 January 2017

Not Going Out: The Family Sitcom??


Lee Mack's flat sharing sitcom Not Going Out has had an interesting lifespan on the BBC. Beginning its life in 2006 and starring Mack, Tim Vine and American actress Megan Dodds it started quietly. In a comedy landscape which had seemingly abandoned the studio audience sitcom it appeared to buck the trend. Not Going Out quickly established itself as it a comedy with a high gag rate. You'd be laughing at Mack's clever word play or quick witted reply to a dry line delivered by straight woman Dodds and miss the next three jokes. Like all the best sitcoms the plot was a simple one. Lee was a laid back northerner sharing a flat with Kate, a no nonsense American who is the ex of Lee's best mate Tim. When the show returned for a second series the following year things had changed. Kate was gone, hardly mention and Lee was sharing with Tim's younger sister high flying Londoner Lucy (Sally Bretton). Lucy was a much better sparing partner for Lee. The jokes came mostly at Lee's expense, be it his northern roots or lack of employment. Add to that the brilliant chemistry between Mack and Vine and the addition of an unknown Miranda Hart as their hapless cleaner and Not Going Out soon became a firm favourite of mine. It didn't ask much of me, and to be fair I didn't ask much of it. It wasn't a comedy that was going to change the face of the genre but one where you guaranteed a ton of laughs.


The show was cancelled by the BBC in 2009, whilst the third series was still airing, but the decision was later reversed due to a combination of strong DVD sales and an online petition. When it returned for a fourth series Hart was gone replaced by Katy Wixs' dim-witted Daisy. More like Phoebe from Friends than Phoebe from Friends the characters relationship to Tim Vine's straight-laced Tim was the first sign the show was starting to run out of plausible decisions when it came to the direction or progression of its characters.  By the time the show reached its sixth series Vine had also decided to exit. His departure left the biggest hole in the cast. The banter between Lee and best mate Tim was one thing that kept the show grounded and without it the show felt a bit hollow. Somehow Not Going Out carried on into its to the seventh which saw the addition of Hugh Dennis and Abigail Cruttenden as Lee and Lucy's neighbours. Hugh Dennis playing, well, Hugh Dennis did he best to fill the void left by Vine whilst  Cruttenden gave her usual uptight upper class performance as the uptight and upper class Anna. Whilst all these changes were going on, Lee and Lucy remained at the heart of the show. They had an only just about believable will they, won't they, should they relationship going on. When Vine returned to the series for 2014's Wedding it was act as Best Man to Lee as he prepared to wed his sister.

I had never quite believed the romantic relationship between Lee and Lucy but anything was possible in the land that Not Going Out inhabited. I tuned into Wedding to see how the series ended and to see them get hitched. It was fun seeing Vine back, for what turned out to be an all too brief appearance. I had stuck with Not Going Out through the majority of its changes but even I had fallen out of love with it by the time the wedding bells started to toll. I had assumed that was the end for the series. I should have known of course not to count out Not Going Out. I missed 2015's Christmas Special that saw Lucy give birth to the couples first child whilst caught up in a robbery and hugely surprised when pictures emerged online of Lee and Lucy with three young children!


Not Going Out is back for an incredible eighth series and yet another incarnation. Mack and Bretton are back along with Hugh Dennis, Abigail Cruttenden and the always good value Bobby Ball as Lee's helpless father. But, in its biggest twist to date, the series has taken a massive leap and sees the married couple parents to three children. It's taken time but the BBC have turned Not Going Out into a family sitcom. Whilst still sporting the high level of gags we've come to expect, the series can't escape the tropes we've seen time and again in the 'family sitcom' The first two episodes focus on forgotten anniversaries and swearing the perils of swearing around young children. Unfortunately, there's very little new here and although Mack and Bretton are doing their very best the scripts are very weak. The child actors are child actors not offering to what ultimately feels watered down version of what was a very enjoyable comedy.


Even if you are coming to this completely fresh having never seen Not Going Out previously, you'll still feel like you've seen all of this before. To give Mack and his team credit the family sitcom is notoriously difficult to master. The team behind the BBC's Outnumbered revolutionised it by letting their younger cast improvise, what Not Going Out has done is try to give the kids funny lines that sadly these children aren't capable of delivering with any pizzazz and the stories lack at any heart. The biggest problem I had was I didn't believe any of it. This was a family made for television rather than the loving family unit you need at the centre of a comedy like this. It's a show that feels like it's going through the motions rather than aiming to offer anything new. The BBC has committed to more series, which is a brave decision considering how different this show is from the originals roots.
Whilst I didn't find much to enjoy/laugh about in these opening episodes you can never countout Not Going Out. It had faced adversity many a time and coming bouncing back and at time when BBC comedy mainly consists of Still Open All Hours, Citizen Khan and Mrs. Brown's Boys perhaps I should just shut up and enjoy it.

Not Going Out Continues Tonight 9.00pm on BBC ONE.

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