The first episode in the third series of BBC One comedy show Little Britain was watched by 9.5m viewers, according to early figures.
Vicky Pollard is still a key part of the show
Only BBC One soap EastEnders had more viewers on Thursday night, with 10.6m.
Little Britain's third series saw David Walliams and Matt Lucas feature new characters as well as old favourites like schoolgirl Vicky Pollard.
The start of the second series was seen by 4.5m last December while the first was last year's best selling TV DVD.
A further 1.8m saw the second series debut on BBC Three prior to its BBC One launch, setting a record for the digital channel.
The critics gave the third series a mixed reception.
Gerard O'Donovan of the Daily Telegraph said the sketches were "brilliantly done and very, very funny" but failed to deliver the "same knockout blow of shock" as before.
He added: "The incredible level of inventiveness ensure that even the most familiar characters still provided top-flight laughs."
Dudley and mail-order bride Ting Tong are among the new creations
The Times' Dominic Maxwell said: "Last night's return took us to a very pleasant buffer zone between genuine excitement and dropping off: the natural stomping ground of all but the most exceptional TV.
"After watching it once, you could watch it again with almost equal pleasure."
The Sun's Sara Nathan praised the "brilliant physical comedy" and said: "It left me feeling as if I'd eaten a ton of sweets - slightly nauseous but very, very happy."
The Guardian's Rupert Smith said: "As ever, when it's good, Little Britain is very, very good."
But he added: "Sixty per cent of the sketches rely on recognition-laugh-quick pay-off; the remaining 40% just go for shock value."
'Desperate to offend'
But Robert Hanks of the Independent said the "sense of novelty has long gone".
He said Vicky Pollard had gone from seeming "a venomously clever satirical stroke" to now representing "a marketing opportunity".
He asked: "Has any comedy been so desperate to offend its audience?"
The Mirror's Jim Shelley said Tom Baker's voiceover introductions were "far funnier" than any of the new creations.
"None of them had anything like the appeal of Daffyd or Vicky Pollard, whose West Side Story dance routine was hilarious," he said.