A gem of a series, Gavin & Stacey immediately draws the viewer in with its humor and warmth, all the while deepening the characters and their lives in ways that inspire real investment from its audience. Created and written by James Corden and Ruth Jones, who also star as Smithy and Nessa, respectively, the three seasons are a brilliant blend of comedic and emotional payoff.
Based on a real life friend of Corden’s (also named Gavin), the series follows the quick courtship between Gavin (Matthew Horne), from Essex, England and Stacey (Joanna Page), from Barry Island, Wales. Their whirlwind romance moves from first date (albeit after months of talking over the phone), to a proposal, to a wedding all within the first season. In moving their relationship forward so rapidly, their families and friends are also immediately brought together and much of the series hangs on their interactions.
Gavin’s parents, Mick (Larry Lamb) and Pam (Alison Steadman), are the perfect counterparts to Stacey’s mother, Gwen (Melanie Walters) and Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon). Where Gavin’s parents are boisterous and enthusiastic, Stacey’s family is more reserved. In addition, Smithy, Gavin’s best friend, and Nessa, Stacey’s best friend, also serve as immediate connections to their lives, pre-coupledom. Although they initially seem to be quite different from each other, both sets of families – and extended families – quickly form a friendship and bond that seems as natural as if they had been in one another’s lives for much longer.
While the series is ostensibly about Gavin and Stacey, it’s really more about the larger definition of family and friends. For the speed with which Gavin and Stacey’s relationship develops, they are not without their own struggles, namely about where they should live and how much time they want to spend with their respective families. Although their conflicts are usually resolved swiftly, the series does a nice job of making any problem or misunderstanding real enough to keep the audience fully interested and engaged.
The constant interactions with between the series’ leads and others offer most of Gavin & Stacey’s best moments. Whether they are all celebrating their first Christmas together or traveling back and forth, in caravan, to see each other regularly, all the characters exhibit a genuine affection and camaraderie that lends the series a sense that despite their differences, they all obviously care deeply for one another.
Smithy and Nessa are the kind of oddball characters that could easily seem too strange or outside of Gavin and Stacey’s worlds to easily fit into the show’s environment. However, their weird habits and traditions are exactly the kinds of details that ground the series as true to life. Smithy’s propensity for bursting into song and Nessa’s matter-of-fact tellings of her outrageous past are some of the funniest moments in Gavin & Stacey, but they are also the perfect encapsulation of how enmeshed these characters all are. The comfort and total trust that they each have within their groups speaks to the longevity of their bonds, and in turn, makes Gavin and Stacey’s attachment to them all the more understandable.
As the series progresses, Mick, Pam, Gwen, Bryn, Smithy, and Nessa all form relationships with each other. Smithy and Nessa’s relationship is especially interesting in that there is clearly something that draws them together, but they are equally repulsed by each other. Their ongoing storyline is one of the highlights of the series, as well as arguably just as important as that of Gavin and Stacey.
The series excels in bringing together a wonderful cast of recurring characters, along with the already core cast. Gavin and Smithy’s friends are a colorful group whose genuine enthusiasm further cements these characters as true to life, as do Pam and Mick’s closest friends, bitter married couple Dawn (Julia Davis) and Pete (Adrian Scarborough). Similarly, the Barry Island bunch adds a believable community environment that makes Stacey so attached to her home. Dave Coaches (Steffan Rhondri), the coach driver and Nessa’s boyfriend, and Doris (Margaret John), Stacey’s elderly and often inappropriate neighbor are an integral part of Barry Island, and therefore, of Stacey’s life.
As a true ensemble series, all the actors do a terrific job of bringing this oddball cast to life, but special mention should be made of Corden and Jones, as they add an unexpected balance to the show. Steadman and Brydon are also standouts as Pam and Bryn. Steadman’s comedic timing and complete commitment to Pam’s emotional highs and lows is a definite highlight, while Brydon makes Bryn’s eccentricities work so well.
Lasting three seasons, Gavin & Stacey is an excellent snapshot into the lives of these characters. While the series could have easily continued, Corden and Jones smartly gave the show a complete arc that seamlessly blends humor with realistic relationships. In the end, the series offers a portrait of this large and extended family, unconventional though it may be, with intelligence, wit, and heart.
The DVD set comes with a ton of special features including deleted scenes, selected commentary tracks, cast and creator interviews, and general behind the scenes featurettes. They are a wonderful addition to the series and offer a deeper understanding of the characters and series, while showing the obvious fondness the cast has for each other.