(If you’ve seen neither show’s ending, spoilers below are hidden in backwards text…)
Eight years ago, I was sitting in a small office off Oxford Street with Lee Mack, Andrew Collins, and a rogue smell that we eventually pinpointed to a half-drunk cup of coffee hiding behind some scripts from months earlier (before I joined, I hasten to add).
We were writing the first series of Not Going Out, and partway through we turned our attention to casting ideas for some guest parts, including a scary acupuncturist character. I’d seen Miranda Hart on sitcom Hyperdrive (and didn’t know her apart from that), so threw her name into the ring. She got the part, and returned as an apparently-different cleaner character next series. In an entirely unrelated series of events, she got a BBC Radio then BBC TV sitcom of her own, called Miranda.
What I’m saying is: she owes me her entire career.
…Alright she had a good deal to do with it too, as well as a few powers-that-beeb.
I should add you may loathe either or both shows. That’s fine. Some like ’em, some don’t. Comedy’s that weird beast, where, like horror with it’s oohs and arghs, it requires a visceral response to work, and if you don’t laugh, you see it as a failure. Thankfully both have found an audience – the stars aligned.
And the two sitcoms have been oddly synchronistic, ending at the same time. I’ve written on both teams since episode one, and both shows have been written by its star performer, playing a version of themselves with their own name, American-style. Both ended up as BBC1 studio sitcoms, at a time when it looked like The Office had killed off the laughter track. (Not Going Out’s first episode aired the night after a BBC2 documentary about how the studio sitcom was dead; one theory has it that in recessions, people want cheering up so lean towards silly studio audience fare (hence the rise of Mrs Brown’s Boys et al), while in boom-time audiences go for darker shows (Nighty Night, Green Wing etc). Whatever the reason, Not Going Out and Miranda have lasted till now… and alas only till now.)
Both shows have ended within 8 days of each other. The latest series of Not Going Out ended on Christmas Eve, and while Lee has said he’d like to do more, it’s all rather well wrapped up, so we presume for now that that Not Going Out is probably now not going out. I hear from the man on the street that though there was a Tim-sized gap since Mr Vine left, Hugh Dennis has been a great addition, and that a Lee/Hugh double act in the show has plenty of legs yet, were it to return – but seven series may be our lot.
Miranda finished just over a week later, on New Year’s Day. Handily that means the show can say it ran from 2009-2015. Six glorious years (just)! MH has said that that’s it, so again we assume that is indeed it. Hollywood’s calling, as well as midwives. Much as I like to think we’ll get annual Christmas reunions a la Only Fools, The Royle Family and (it looks like) Mrs Brown’s Boys, I suspect that we won’t be popping in to Gary’s bar for Christmas turkey every twelve months. Miranda, Stevie, Penny: it’s been such fun.
To those who’ve been kindly asking how my bills will get paid now both have finished at once, I thank you, but we’re not in America… Auntie Beeb doesn’t pay like Uncle Sam does, so worry not, the difference is negligible. What the shows have done is opened doors to more gigs and more writing opportunities on other shows, so I thank them heartily for that. I’ve a couple of sitcom writitunities for early 2015, on a couple of shows that will hit screens later in the year, so God-willing the viewing public will take to them like they did to Lee the lousy flatmate and Miranda the lovable shop-owner… although I know lucky breaks don’t come along all the time.
But really this already far-too-long blog (which is why both shows have editors) is to reassure anyone who’s seen both NGO/Miranda finales that any similarity is entirely coincidental. Without giving away spoilers if you’ve VHS’d those bad boys, both shows wrap things up in fairly similar ways. (Alright, I’m spoilerising via backwards text: htoB swohs dne ni sgniddew, htiw etaudarG-elyts etal slavirra retfa a dam hsad, sa llew sa tseug soemac morf srats ohw deraeppa a seires ro owt kcab. sulP noisufnoc revo s’ohw tseb nam. dnA skcabhsalf.)
Not my doing! I arrived at the script to spruce up with funny lines after these bits were well and truly embedded. And while in the past I’ve accidentally submitted the same joke for two different shows airing on the same night on the same channel (see chapter 8 of my book So A Comedian Walked Into A Church, available on Amazon and other less-tax-dodging websites), on this occasion it was well beyond worth me mentioning the similarities to anyone. Both had these facets deep in the story structure, and to be honest both were the best (and really only) ways to round off either series. It’s telling that both chose the same route – but that’s what the public want, and it’s satisfying. Sitcom is all about resetting the set-up each week – seeing our characters back at square one. On this occasion both needed to move on, and give our lead characters some plot resolution. That meant… this – a ceremonial tying-up of things.
As the only person involved in both shows on these final episodes, I have no idea if I was the only one to know the similarities in advance. Did someone at Beeb Towers oversee all this, and read both scripts, and know we’d have a bit of a crossover? Or did no one really know until the day of each show? And where are Beeb Towers now they’ve stupidly sold the doughnut building at White City? Who can say.
Equally, has anyone else noticed? Was I the only one to spot the similarities between the Christmas specials of Black Mirror and Doctor Who? Both are lightly comedic sci-fis, both within a week of each broadcasting one-offs set in a mysterious snowy North Pole research station, in both cases occupied by characters who, when pressed, didn’t actually know what they were doing there, until it unravelled that (backwardly-written spoilers again) htob erew gnirrucco ni rieht suoicsnocbus. Both used familiar glam rock Christmas anthems (Slade’s and Wizzard’s) in a macabre fashion: in one case to drive someone insane in a dream-world, and in the other to save someone from having their brains eaten by a dream-crab. Small world, ey? But then both used these elements to markedly different – and brilliant – effect. So perhaps I’m worrying over nothing about similarities: like the wise man said, you can use the same ingredients to make an omelette and a trifle, if you just add a few and take some away (the wise man was an awful cook).
So I hope any similarities didn’t affect your enjoyment of either send-off. I think both worked well. And if you didn’t like it, well that’s the last you’ll see of it anyway.
Happy New Year! And Happy New Sitcom.