Not Going Out 100th episode | Review of the Christmas special of Lee Mack's sitcom © BBC/Avalon
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Not Going Out 100th episode

Review of the Christmas special of Lee Mack's sitcom

A hundred episodes is quite some achievement for any UK sitcom. But it also means Lee Mack’s remarkably long-lived Not Going Out has come to feel like part of the furniture rather than appointment-to-view TV.  

That’s probably even more true since it settled into more traditional family sitcom territory halfway through its long life. Though admittedly a family sitcom with gags about sex pests and fudge fingers and dirty old men perving over Naked Attraction, as featured in this 45-minute seasonal special. 

Not Going Out - mack and bretton with a spangly 100

To promote it, Mack has spoken a lot about the decline of the traditional British sitcom in favour of more critically accepted – and middle-class – comedy-dramas. In that sense, he and co-writer Daniel Peake remain resolutely old-school, packing their script with gags and an improbably farcical plot.

Lee ends up in the sort of situation where he makes increasingly bizarre and rudely insistent excuses as to why no one must go in the kitchen, and it’s all treated as if it’s perfectly reasonable. We accept this as the rules of the game, although it pales in comparison to the coruscating wit and precision choreography of Frasier’s similar dinner party episode.

Making every line a gag sometimes sacrifices quality for quantity, sounding like the sort of ‘dad’ banter heard in families across the nation this weekend.

‘You can volunteer to have an old person for Christmas dinner,’ explains Sally Bretton’s Lucy. ’I think we’ll stick to turkey.’ comes the inevitable reply. 

That’s the premise: that the family will invite Wilfred, a lonely pensioner from the nearby care home, to join them for Christmas dinner, along with Lucy’s parents, Wendy (Deborah Grant) and curmudgeonly Geoffrey (Geoffrey Whitehead).  ‘Please Lee can we have a normal Christmas where nothing goes wrong,’ Lucy pleads at the start. Of course not – has she not seen the show?

The pensioner who Lee collects from the old folk’s home is not the sweet, teetotaller he’d come to expect but a loudmouthed grouch. And the Gremlins-style instruction that Wilfred is not, under any circumstances, to be given alcohol is foreshadowing at its most blatant.

Yet despite the formulaic nature that has sustained all 100 episodes, the good nature that underpins Not Going Out is still appealing. Lee may be a sarcastic joker, but that’s just cheeky chappiness. He means no harm and the scrapes he gets himself into are never really his fault, just the usual sitcom flaw of trying toe cover up mistakes with ever-increasingly ill-judged decisions, and never more so than in this episode. 

The supporting cast are strong too. Bretton brings more than eye-rolling to her role as long-suffering spouse, and while everybody misses Bobby Ball as Mack’s dad, Whitehead’s crank is a good counterpoint to Lee’s chippiness. 

So even if the 100th episode proves no landmark comedy for the ages, it’s an amusing, undemanding way to spend a chunk of Chistmas Eve night, which is probably exactly what this slot requires.

Review date: 24 Dec 2023
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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