What do you know? Not content with offering just one fantastic live and holiday-related instalment of a show I liked (the Inside No 9 Halloween episode), the BBC pulls another one out of the bag. Lee Mack’s family sitcom Not Going Out returned for a live Christmas special that, although perhaps not the most adventurous live effort ever, was incredibly good fun and really made me laugh.
The episode began with Lee (Mack) and Lucy (Sally Bretton) seemingly introduced the episode to the audience, but it was then revealed that they were actually making a video to advertise the school Christmas show, which Lucy has been tasked with organising. Acts were dropping out, with new ones hard to come by – in desperation, Lucy decides to hire a knife thrower. However, when Juan (Tom Benedict Knight) arrives and proves to be a bit of a lothario, Lee takes umbrage and attempts to get him fired. From then on, the episode descends into your typical Not Going Out farce, culminating in a school show with lots of hilarity and jeopardy.
In a way, it was a really impressive thing to pull off, but a whole bunch of critics thought that it lacked a wow factor because it conformed so well to the show’s usual style
I don’t really want to describe it as an issue (because the alternative – a load of mistakes – would’ve been much worse), but the live aspect of the show was almost perfectly seamless, and that essentially nullified the jeopardy feeling that comes with a live broadcast. But for a few tiny live problems – a flubbed line by Bretton in the first couple of minutes (Twitter was divided over whether it was deliberate, or planned to set up a gag), a mic popping into shot at one point, the sound of shuffling at the start of some of the transitions as the actors prepared for the next scene and some odd camera angles – it could have been a normal episode of the show. In a way, it was a really impressive thing to pull off, but a whole bunch of critics thought that it lacked a wow factor because it conformed so well to the show’s usual style.
However, that minor gripe doesn’t change how amazing the cast were, and there were certain aspects of the live show which were perfect. It allowed for a degree of fourth-wall breaking and self-referentiality that you don’t normally see in the show – a good example is Mack reciting a long monologue, only to quip about it being written on a cue card just out of shot. There were also hints at Mack’s real life, with gags about Would I Lie To You? co-star Rob Brydon and a particularly nasty review
They really all were superb
It also gave us a bunch of great set pieces at the end, during the school show. At the start, there was a reference to Anna (Abigail Cruttenden) and Toby (Hugh Dennis) learning Tom Lehrer’s ‘The Elements’ – the periodic table to a brisk Gilbert and Sullivan tune, if you don’t know it – and from then on, we were all just waiting for them to perform it. What an amazing job they made of it, too. Toby and Anna smashed through a coupe of verses, had an argument, sang made-up lyrics – kudos to Cruttenden and Dennis, who pulled off something incredibly tough with what looked like ease. I can’t single any of the actors out, though – they all pulled together and rose to the challenge, taking part in stunts like that and a knife-throwing routine that, despite tweets to the contrary, I refuse to believe wasn’t real. They really all were superb.
We also had a rare instance of Not Going Out being topical, which was again facilitated by the live aspect. Lucy was reading a newspaper discussing the Jeremy Corbyn commons row, and called Lee a ‘stupid man’. His response – ‘you really are a stupid… people’, and half a knowing glance to the camera. Was it particularly insightful? No, but it was really funny. As ever in an episode of Not Going Out, you’re really not wanting for gags in this instalment.
Ultimately, your appetite for the Not Going Out live Christmas episode is likely to depend on your stance to the rest of the series. It’s not particularly challenging or heavy, but I think that’s a strength – it knows what it wants to be, and that’s silly, fun and really funny. If you fancy a laugh, I recommend checking it out – you’re unlikely to find something equally as enjoyable on TV this side of the New Year.