Naturally, spoilers are present throughout this article.
As the seventh series of Not Going Out appears on the shop shelves in DVD form what better time to take a look back at my favourite episodes of the series? Though the conclusion of the most recent episode would suggest Lee Mack’s sitcom has come to its end, a recent interview with Alan Carr suggests a new Christmas special will be appearing at the tail end of the year, so whilst this article doesn’t come at the end of all the episodes, the plot developments of series seven make this a good time for a quick retrospective.
For those of you not aware, Not Going Out is a sitcom that began back in 2006 featuring Lee Mack as slacker Lee who spends seven series chasing after his flatmate, Kate (Megan Dodds) in series one and Lucy (Sally Bretton) from then on. Along the journey he is joined by best friend Tim (Tim Vine) for the first five series and his partner ditsy Daisy (Katy Wix) from series three onwards as a regular. Tim, a mummy’s boy, ends up in many scrapes with Lee all while trying to keep his best friend away from his ex, and his sister (so, of course, they’re not going out) before in the later series Lucy and Daisy step up to fill the void left by an absent Tim Vine.
Along the way they’re joined by a variety of actors including Bobby Ball as Lee’s father, Geoffrey Whitehead (initially Timothy West) and Wendy Adams as Tim and Lucy’s parents, and Miranda Hart as cleaner Barbara in series two, alongside Hugh Dennis and Abigail Cruttenden making extended cameos in the final series. Not Going Out mixed plenty of one-liners drawn from a series of writers and the cast, with surreal set-ups, visual gags and North vs South humour, charting the adventures of the main cast in a sitcom that saw a return to the studio environment of older sitcoms.
So, as the most recent series becomes available to watch and with Lee and Lucy finally getting together in the last two episodes of series seven, here’s my pick of the best ten stories from the seven series. I’m sure you’ll have your opinions on my selection so make sure you comment below!
10. Death (s1 ep2)
“I thought she was going to live until she was one-hundred.”“Were you close?”“Well 94. I was only six years out.”
Following a debut episode that introduced the cast well and many highlights including clown school and a depressive author, it’s the second episode with its scenes set in a therapist’s office and a funeral wake that really make an impact almost a decade on. Featuring many one-liners that are still some of the show’s best involving ice-cream flavours and the Muppets, Death sees the character’s dealing with their own personal issues as well as the death of Tim’s grandmother. At the centre of the episode is quite a dark and touching plotline but built around that strong central story are some laugh-out-loud one-liners and some fleshing out of the character’s personalities with all the individual plot threads tying nicely together at the end. Oh, and she’s 23.
9. Life On Mars Bars (s4 ep6)
“Take me now!”“Do you mean sex or dog racing?”
Quite possibly the most surreal episode of the seven series overall, Life On Mars Bars parodies the BBC crime drama with a similar name, with Lee getting hit by a car and dreaming of a fantasy life with Lucy where they are parents. Capturing the weird feeling of dreams perfectly, the episode stands out as the weirdest of the lot, abandoning the relative realism of most of the episodes for something so crazy it’s hard to describe, but I’ll attempt to by referencing Bobby Ball in a variety of costumes, children escaping from between Lucy’s legs, a new job in a quarry and Lee constantly in a hospital gown no matter what the situation.
Lee Mack and Sally Bretton certainly have fun in the episode playing against type, and the non-sequiturs work really well. A refreshing end to that series, Life On Mars Bars – or Carry On Up The Coma as it’s described within the episode – rips up the rule book of the series and offers something unique across all the episodes, whilst still throwing in dozens of great one-liners, many digs at Lee’s northern roots and some memorable set pieces, with some spot-on parodies of hospital dramas and flashback sequences, plus prosthetics, and a plotline that uses the concept to play with the established rules of the sitcom, and allows the characters to talk about their feelings openly in a way they can’t normally do, as well as almost breaking the fourth wall in parts. Turning from a dream sequence to a surreal living nightmare for Lee, it’s not hard for many moments of this weird episode to stick in the memory (And if you like this one, series five’s Drunk almost rivals it for weirdness).
8. Christmas Special (s7 ep10)
“I feel like I’m in something from Kafka.”“Looks more like Moss Bros to me, Geoffrey.”
After fifty three episodes Lee and Lucy finally get married, and though this Christmas special isn’t the funniest episode in this countdown it’s certainly one of the most joyful to watch. The final cameo and flashback-filled ten minutes really connect up the series, which aside from series two don’t really have arcs, and in terms of feel-good television it’s hard to beat this one. Whether or not bringing the series back for one more special after this will prove a good idea, this was a fantastic wrapping up of a refreshingly strong seventh series and a joyous reward for long-term fans of the show, even if the absence of Kate and Barbara in the cameos feels too noticeable. Oh, and it’s probably the best use of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love in a television show.
7. Winner (s3 ep2)
“Look, trust me, I’ve learnt my lesson.”“Which is what?”“Which is: if you’re going to pretend to be disabled, always check the form carefully before you send it. That’s not it, is it? The lesson is it’s important to always be truthful and honest. Now will you just pretend I’m blind, Tim’s paralysed, Daisy’s got amnesia and you’ve got Tourette’s.”
The better episodes of Not Going Out are the ones that take a plot idea and ramp up the conceit until the characters get into a total mess with it: think of the episodes in series two where Lee has to pretend to be gay, or Lee and Tim have to look after a baby. In this type of episode the initial plot is pretty straightforward but the stories soon snowball as more and more goes wrong. And the best example of this type of episode is also my favourite episode of all: series three’s Winner.
Here Lee wins an essay writing competition but has to pretend to be blind due to it being a competition only open to disabled writers. What starts as a little white lie soon escalates with Tim, Lucy and Daisy all pulled into the deceit, and though a plotline revolving around characters pretending to be disabled is not particular politically correct it certainly is very funny. With disparate plot lines involving essay writing, commemorative world cup mugs, a traffic accident, amnesia and Princess Diana it all comes together in one twisting and turning plotline based around an interview about the article. It’s not big or clever, but it’s a very funny episode.
6. Debbie (S4 ep2)
“He said you like having sex in bread.”“I didn’t mean it.”“What did you mean?”“I meant you like having sex with your relatives.”“It’s better than having sex in bread.”“Actually, you could combine both and have sex with your naan.”
When a girl comes around to the flat asking for a cup of sugar, Lee fears that she may be a daughter from a one night stand he had. Starring Laura Aikman as Debbie, the episode centres around a whole host of classic one-liners with some of the best from across the seven series, including ones revolving around the age gap between Lee and Debbie and Tim’s middle-class-ness and innocence, set pieces of a crazy golf course and, in particular, the famous karaoke night segments with some well-timed songs from Tim.
With a series of funny flashbacks to Lee and Tim’s youth when they first met at Tim’s parents’ house, Debbie is an episode where lots of the elements that make up the inter-character relationships come together, with the personalities of the characters and the plotlines up to that point all working to form a relatively realistic in-universe chain of events.
5. Surprise (s7 ep7)
“No, you can’t tell that miserable old bastard!”“I think you’ll find the word is “curmudgeonly”.”“OK, you can’t tell that curmudgeonly old bastard.”
In this episode Lucy attempts to plan a surprise anniversary party for her parents but in the best NGO tradition it all goes wrong in spectacular fashion, once more this simple concept becoming accelerated through a series of lies and misunderstandings. Highlights include Hugh Dennis and a prank phone call, mistaken identity and Lucy’s dad not dying on a toilet. In Surprise Hugh Dennis proves to be a welcome addition to the cast, already cemented in after only a couple of appearances. Surprise proves that even when seven series in, the show can still produce some of its best material.
4. Camping (s5 ep3)
“We are surrounded by countryside, we can camp anywhere.”“No, we can’t. You have to be a minimum 100 metres away from an A or B road, not on privately-owned farmland or recognised archaeological sites. The Camping Code of Conduct isn’t written just for fun, you know.”“Oh, that’s just an added bonus, is it?”
Set for the vast majority within Tim’s car, Tim, Lee, Lucy and Daisy are on their way to go camping and the confined location of the car in this bottle episode really allows the characters to develop. Throw in some creepy characters, the inability to fix car faults, and the inexperience of all the cast in camping and you get a fun mix of one-liners, visual jokes set around the car and dark humour. One of the few episodes not set within the studio environment – like the similarly fun Skiing from the series after this – this change of scene added some freshness to the series as well as injecting some darkness into the show, later emphasised in The House.
3. Lucy (s7 ep9)
“Do you know how vomit-making you two look, gazing into each other’s eyes like a pair of lovesick puppies? Will you please put us all out of our misery and just become a couple?”
Taking place mostly just in the bar that has been a large fixture throughout the show, this penultimate episode of the latest series is where it finally happens, with Lee and Lucy getting together. Hilarious, touching and well set up in equal measure, with the finale built up until you hope the words will be spoken, Lucy is a joyous thirty minutes of plotting until it reaches the much awaited crescendo at the end of the episode. If the last few minutes don’t make you laugh, cheer and smile as a fan of the series then you maybe need another drink from the bar.
2. Rabbit (s6 ep1)
“Why are you in my garden in the middle of the night?”“I just wanted to find Button for you.”“Why?”“Because I felt guilty about giving your daughter a sack full of dead, wrong rabbit. Come on, we’ve all been there.”
By this point Tim Vine had left the show so Lee Mack had to prove to the audience that Not Going Out could continue without him, and Rabbit pretty much proved that it was possible. Dispensing their star off within the opening sentence, the opener of series six manages to re-establish Lee and Lucy as a strong double act, Sally Bretton stepping up as the centrepiece of the episode as she runs over a client’s pet. From here the plot escalates including a very, very funny and well set up sequence set within a pet shop, an Elephant Man pastiche, and a mysterious individual called Warren Burrows.
1. Drugs (s4 ep1)
“Let’s ring Fiona Bruce and see if she’s still presenting the Narcotics Roadshow.”“Yeah, or Dickinson’s Real Deal. Crack in the Attic.”“This is excellent use of our time. Let’s think of some more drug puns about TV programmes, shall we? That’ll solve everything. I know.”“Top Gear.”“Shut it.”
Tim arrives at the flat of Lee and Lucy having picked up the wrong coat when leaving a club, and within it is a bag of class A drugs. This simple premise kicks off a hilarious journey as they try to return the drugs to the dealer and then escape him whilst they pull some great one liners out of the premise.
Featuring a strong two-hander between Lee and Tim that really builds on their characters, with some support from Daisy at her ditsy best, Drugs mixes up everything that is great about the show: funny one-liners, visual jokes, and an escalating silly premise, culminating in a particularly surreal ending. Oh, and some word play Ronnie Barker would have loved. It has some strong competition but Drugs definitely sums up the qualities of Not Going Out to me.
The best of the rest
If you are looking for further NGO highlights then I’d suggest:
1.3 Aussie. Lee and Kate have to pretend to be a couple, matching up a well-paced plot and, of course, some fun one-liners. “He’s a real high flyer. He says Hi – would you like a flyer?”
2.1 Mortgage. Lee finds himself having to put off a series of potential buyers for the flat and ends up digging a huge hole for himself.
3.5 Neighbour. A delightfully creepy episode that, though not the best, gave birth to one of the best lines in the show as they talk about drugs. “What type were they? The type that made him grow an extra penis on his back” / “Anabolic?” / “No, just a penis.”
6.8 Boat. Set mostly on a boat on the high seas, this Airplane-referencing episode wrapped up the sixth series brilliantly.
6.9 The House. Possibly the best plotted of all episodes, the gang end up in a haunted house in this extended episode and it unravels nicely in a spooky way.
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