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BBC/Avalon/Mark Johnson

Not Going Out Christmas Special 2019 review

Tucked away in the rather rubbish Christmas schedule was a new instalment of Lee Mack’s hit sitcom Not Going Out, another festive special after the Halloween outing this year. In ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, we get the usual farce setting and strong performances from the cast, although there is so much going on that it means we don’t get as many laughs as you’d hope.

Lee (Lee Mack) has left his Christmas shopping to the last minute and, with the kids demanding an inflatable Santa for the front garden, he and Lucy (Sally Bretton) head out for some final purchases. However, things don’t quite go as planned, as a robbery starts a chain of events leading to an unexpected trip deep into the countryside which tests the intrepid couple’s relationship to the limits. Meanwhile, at their house, Lucy’s babysitting parents Geoffrey (Geoffrey Whitehead) and Wendy (Deborah Grant) must contend with the children and changes to their plans – something that is certainly not helped with the arrival of Lee’s father Frank (Bobby Ball).

I kept forgetting that Geoffrey wasn’t Scrooge (it seemed so obvious, really – he certainly made a more convincing Scrooge than the Guy Pearce iteration on immediately prior)

I want to start with the negatives as there were a couple of elements that didn’t quite land for me. A running gag in which people kept confusing Geoffrey’s Bob Cratchit costume for other historical and fictional figures didn’t always land, and I kept forgetting that he wasn’t Scrooge (it seemed so obvious, really – he certainly made a more convincing Scrooge than the Guy Pearce iteration on immediately prior). We had a foreign truck driver who was terrifying to for no reason other than to add a bit of tension and some laughs, but it didn’t feel right in-world, neither did some of the choices that Lucy and Lee made.

On the whole, though, the layering of the chaos works really well. You’ve an old sitcom staple in a wild bull in a field, and a wander in the woods that leads to even more trouble. Particularly good is a scene with a phone box, in which Lucy and Lee realise that their reliance on mobile phones means they can’t use it, to their increasing frustration. They’ve nailed the married couple dynamic, and the bickering that goes on here is excellent character and comedy work.

Lucy and Lee have nailed the married couple dynamic, and the bickering that goes on here is excellent character and comedy work

There are good lines sprinkled throughout ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ (although not as many as I’d have liked, sadly), but you never go more than a minute or so without a laugh. It’s Bobby Ball who gets most of the best lines, with Frank being a fantastic combination of earnest yet useless, criminal, and just a dirty old man. We know now that he plays well with Whitehead and Grant as Lucy’s parents, so putting the three together was a good call – just one that I wish was used more in the episode. The three always make me chuckle when I watch Not Going Out, and this instalment was no different.

There’s a lot going on in ‘Driving Home for Christmas’, a relentless build that increasingly gets worse for Lee and Lucy,and it’s amusing without ever really being that funny. The show works well and after ten seasons, it’s impressive that Lee Mack and the rest of the cast still deliver – we get so few sitcoms like this one and it’s still one of the funniest things that the BBC puts on, and Mack (in his capacity as writer) clearly knows what he’s doing. ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ is an amusing episode of the show, and there’s certainly a lot worse to watch this year.

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