Not Going Out is a new comedy on BBC1 for Friday evenings. And if that sentence doesn't make your spirits sink, you haven't been watching Blessed, or My Hero, or the under-powered Worst Week of My Life, or My Family, or that My Family clone so bad that my brain froze rather than allowing its name to reach the cerebral cortex. The bar for success is not set high.
It ought to pass it. The writing is sharp and clever, if a little self-indulgent: the inclusion of three zany elements (depressive author, Lee's job packing Christmas crackers, and circus skills class) in a single episode seemed to me to be trying a bit hard, when the core of the comedy has to be the interplay between Lee, Kate and Tim. Unfortunately some of the best lines were lost; Lee's delivery was so fast that he didn't give them space to breathe, and the audience's early laughter often swamped the killer line.
A more serious problem is the location: whatever one may say about Men Behaving Badly, Extras, or even Two Pints of Lager, they all have a distinctive locale, a real place where these characters and their relatives live. In contrast, Not Going Out is set in a vague generic city, the same city as Coupling, with an anonymous flat, anonymous bar, anonymous office, and characters with no history.
Kate is American, so she is earnest and New Age. That doesn't really cut it as back-story. It always amuses me when people say America is a classless society when it is clearly just as nuanced as ours: Friends isn't just six random people, but six people each from a specific social milieu.
Tim and Lee's characters are equally simple: accountant and slacker; so middle class and dolemite; so pompous and sarcastic. It's a bit schematic.
But it's not as if we are spoiled for choice if we want to watch smart comedy, so I'll hope for improvement.
Now the series is over, and it's time to come off the fence.
Actually, my first impressions proved quite reliable: the Tim character proved impossible to develop, and played only a minor part towards the end. The core of the comedy is the relationship between Lee and Kate, one of comfortable coupledom without the sex, masked by verbal bickering. Megan Dodds managed to undercut the excessive kookiness or earnestness of some of her lines with a sly twinkle in her eye that implied her detachment from her statements. Lee remained slightly problematic, partly because his character was boxed in by its narrow definition: the most complex thing he could do was to realise how he felt about Kate; but also because unlike Megan's actorly clarity of diction, his remained a rushed mumble. Jokes about the badness of Kate's cooking aren't funny: strangely enough, neither were the similar jokes in My Family, Butterflies, or The Young Ones. The only halfway good jokes about bad cooking were in (crikey) The Vicar of Dibley. So leave it.
Paradoxically, this was a comedy that tried too hard: it would have been better with fewer wisecracks and a more paced direction. Still, all on board for Series 2 (no, not you, Tim).