Gavin and Stacey
BBC1, Christmas Day
What’s occurin’? The return of Gavin and Stacey on Christmas Day, that’s what. Tidy! In a year when festive telly is looking decidedly underwhelming, this hour-long special from one of the nation’s best-loved sitcoms is a welcome treat.
Better still, the writing by co-stars James Corden and Ruth Jones has lost none of its bite. It’s been almost ten years since we last saw the four best friends – Gavin and Stacey, Smithy and Nessa – on the seafront at Barry Island, in a 2010 New Year’s Day special.
Since then, Corden has defied all the pundits’ predictions (including my own nay-saying) to become a stunningly successful talk-show host in America, presenting The Late Late Show. Smithy is now a superstar.
Gavin and Stacey’s Christmas special is a five-star treat. While it has been ten years since we saw the four best friends, everything Nessa says in her Kairdiff growl is authentic. ‘Lush! Oh! Where to’s she? Fair play, serious. I appreciates it’
But the close friendship between him and Mathew Horne, who plays Gavin, fell apart after the sitcom ended. Their consequent sketch show was panned by critics, and that was nothing compared to the savaging meted out to their truly awful feature film, Lesbian Vampire Killers in 2009. Blaming each other, they stopped speaking. ‘In one year we spent 263 days together,’ Corden says, ‘and we went from that to nothing.’
So the omens weren’t great when he and Jones announced they wanted to revisit the South Wales seaside town of Barry, to catch up with their roster of beloved characters.
Certainly none of the other cast members were expecting a call.
Stacey (pictured left) was pregnant last time she was featured in the programme. Like relatives we haven’t seen for years, we love these characters from the moment they’re back on screen. We believe in their Christmas celebrations
Robert Wilfort, who plays Stacey’s brother Jason, says he assumed Corden’s texts and emails, asking for a reunion, came from ‘trolls or scammers’. Melanie Walters (Stacey’s mum, Gwen) ignored the messages, too, so convinced was she that they had to be a practical joke.
But somehow, the whole gang has been reassembled – including Rob Brydon as highly-strung Uncle Bryn, who is preparing this year’s Christmas dinner ‘for more than 13 people’.
It’s meticulously planned, like a military operation – though bear in mind that with military operations, one side always loses.
One of the show’s many running jokes is an ill-fated fishing trip, when Uncle Bryn took young Jason camping. Something happened that weekend, though neither of them has ever admitted what. Will we finally learn the truth? No spoilers, but let’s just say that Jason is now out and proud, as a member of what Smithy calls the LGBTQIA community. Last time we saw Stacey (Joanna Page) she was pregnant, while Nessa was already mother to ‘Neil the baby’.
The Christmas special (pictured) is guaranteed to make viewers weep as they cry with laughter. The meandering conversations about nothing in particular is sentimental silliness fans cherish
So what’s become of the families? Who’s living where, who’s broken up with who – and why has one of the characters bought an engagement ring?
There’s a lot to tell, and that almost scuppered the special from the start. Jones flew to Los Angeles last year for a week of writing with Corden, and the pair put in 15-hour shifts, cramming this one-off episode with enough plot to fill a Judith Krantz blockbuster.
But that isn’t what we love about Gavin and Stacey.
It’s the meandering conversations about nothing, the small talk that gradually shrinks to contented mutters – sentiment and silliness, making us weep as we cry with laughter. Thankfully, the writers realised their error before the first draft was finished. Out went the revelations and plot-twists, replaced with gloriously pointless chatter that reveals so much more than it says.
At one point, there’s a long and earnest discussion in the pub about the best and worst services along the M4 – in which Bryn admits far more about himself than he realises. ‘I tell you what, it’s a cracking motorway, the M4,’ he begins, to nods of agreement. No one is nodding by the end of his speech.
Co-stars James Corden and Ruth Jones did 15 hour shifts to produce the script which has certainly not lost its bite
For a show that never really had catchphrases, many lines are reassuringly familiar. ‘I am not using Gwen’s towels,’ fusses Gavin’s mother, Pam (Alison Steadman). ‘It’s just we’ve got different standards.’ ‘See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya!’ quips Bryn – surely now a line unused by anyone under 50.
Everything Nessa says in her Kairdiff growl is authentic. ‘Lush! Oh! Where to’s she? Fair play, serious. I appreciates it.’ Her dialogue could come straight out of a South Wales phrasebook. Like relatives we haven’t seen for years, we love these characters from the moment they’re back on screen. We believe in their Christmas celebrations.
Gavin & Stacey will return to television screens on Christmas Day after a ten-year hiatus. Pictured: Stacey (Joanna Page) and Nessa (Ruth Jones) in a scene from the Christmas special
And of course, there’s a karaoke moment down the pub. Nessa and Bryn perform the scabrous modern carol, Fairytale Of New York. She sings it like she means every filthy line. He duets like he doesn’t have a clue what the words mean.
And everybody sings along. You won’t be able to resist either.
Gavin And Stacey is on BBC1 at 8.30pm on Christmas Day