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rrramble retrospective: Gavin and Stacey


2007 - a different time. Woolworths was still around, Bluetooth was the easiest way to get music on your flip-phone, and the pre-Recession world seemed a bit simpler. Enter the icon of British television that is Gavin and Stacey. Written by James Corden and Ruth Jones, Gavin and Stacey celebrated the hilarity in the everyday, and told the sweet long-distance love story between Essex lad Gavin and Barry Islander Stacey.


With a significant culture clash, and a raft of hilarious side characters, this series is considered one of the pillars of naughties culture and British comedy. But with 15 years having passed since it first graced our screens, does the show still hold up? Or should it be left in the past?



A close up shot of two of the show's main characters Stacey and Nessa. Nessa is peering at the camera with a slight smirk on her face, while Stacey is beaming, with her elbow resting on Nessa's shoulder.

Laurel


I wasn’t prepared for the intense feeling of nostalgia rewatching the first three episodes of Gavin and Stacey gave me. Last time I caught an episode of the odd-couple sitcom was during the first lockdown, and for some reason 2007 didn’t feel that long ago. Now, two full recessions and counting from its first air date, the show feels positively prehistoric. The chunky computers, flip phones and fashion trends even TikTok couldn’t save are super fun, if mildly uncanny - maybe I’m just in denial about the passage of time. However, in the pilot episode the characters are legally smoking in a club, which is wild.


The gentle culture-clash comedy itself is still broadly heartwarming and funny, and the performances are great - there’s a reason that it was such a phenomenal success at the time. Matthew Horne and Joanna Page have such sweet and genuine chemistry as the central couple and so many of the supporting characters are iconic. Pam, Gavin’s gossipy and impulsive mother, Bryn, Stacey’s so-dull-he’s-weird uncle, and Nessa, a mysterious Barry Island local with folk-hero levels of personal lore, are favourites, but pretty much every character, however minor, just feels so well observed that off the top of my head I can’t compare Gavin and Stacey to any UK show since. Ruth Jones’ and James Corden’s writing in every scene really digs into universally mundane life experiences and makes them sparkle: basically what every comedy writer is trying to do, but this show achieves a different level of success. I feel like it has such a broad appeal while still feeling authentic, which is a rare combination.


With that considered, I wish I could say it all holds up, I really do. However, some of the jokes revolve around aspects of noughties culture that are better left behind. There are lighthearted bits about a rape alarm and a misunderstanding inferring domestic abuse that I feel would never be dealt with so lightheartedly post Me Too, and James Corden’s character Smithy’s casual sexism is played off as part of his loveable persona rather than presented critically. However, the show is inseparable from it’s 2000s context more ways than just this - would Gavin and Stacey’s challenging long distance relationship be so compelling now we have smartphones and Facetime, or convincing in a time where the leads could have simply used distance settings on their Tinder accounts that didn’t extend from Barry Island to Billericay?


If Gavin and Stacey belongs in a museum, then it’s alongside MSN, extreme side fringes and Nokia brick phones as a prime artefact of noughties British culture. Will it hit the same for younger audiences, or still be funny in another 15 years? I’m not sure, as nostalgia really was an unavoidable part of the rewatching experience, and there’s no doubt that some jokes and other markers that so firmly date the show will still define it. However, this doesn’t stop it from being a fun trip down memory lane for those who remember it the first time around. Yes, I did finish the series.



An image of the coast at Barry Island. Multi-coloured terraced houses are in the background. In the foreground is the blue shop where Stacey worked in the show.
Barry Island

Eve


It may only have been 2007, but the societal changes we’ve experienced since the first episode of Gavin & Stacey aired 15 years ago really do feel monumental. Thankfully the days of metal River Island belts and smoking in clubs are long gone, but sadly today’s petrol prices mean weekly trips from Essex to Wales are impossible for any lovelorn Gavins’ trying to reassure they’re girlfriends they are not slags.


I can’t help but get stuck on this idea. What would a remake of Gavin & Stacey look like with today’s social and dating etiquette? For a start, Smithy would be much more comfortable with the idea of being pegged by Nessa on the first date, but his choice to date a 17-year-old would have (rightfully) classed him as a pervert rather than the lovable-if-laddish character we all tend to remember. Meanwhile, Gavin and Stacey going through a six month talking stage would only seem feasible if there were nudes exchanged and many late night video calls. Of course, there is also no way they would say “I love you” on the first date and then immediately start referring to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. In 2022, the pair would have to go through another 6 months before Stacey finally cracks and sends a “so… what are we?” text to Gavin.


For clarification, I should emphasise that I don’t want a remake in the slightest, but it does leave an interesting thought experiment. Who would have owned a viral TikTok account? (Smithy) Who would be smoking a cigarette in every BeReal? (Nessa) Who would have been a brexiteer? (Pam) Who would have gone from a manic toilet roll hoarder to lockdown conspiracy theorist in the space of 6 months? (Pam again) And who would have cried when the Queen died? (I’ll give you one guess…)


Let’s thank the TV Gods (and James Corden suddenly becoming huge in the US) that this idea for a nightmarish remake is barely a twinkle in a TV executive’s eye. And for now at least, we can still turn to our trusty iPlayer a good nostalgic Gavin & Stacey binge.



Nessa in a blue bowling shirt is holding a black bowling ball with a red Welsh dragon on it. She stands poised, ready to bowl

Tom


Tender is Gavin and Stacey, and its aim is true.


I honestly can’t remember how I first became acquainted with the BBC hit. It wasn’t when it first aired, as I was only ten. The recent Christmas special *sings*, though, and to watch the initial three outings together like it’s a movie, for rrramble, offers a unique chance for me – humble sitcom connoisseur – to assess how the stars, stories and jokes hold up. Spoiler: they absolutely do.


This is a masterclass in comedy writing. From the get-go, the show knows itself and feels lived in. Laughs ooze often from big moments but also small ones, like an understated Doris advising Stacey in the beginning, and the collective nerves and class wars two tales later. Good penmanship helps this all tickle, and scenes are expertly constructed. Every element of these characters, their natural dialogue and relationships is always building. There’s invention in the pacing too, upped by nice camera touches like the zoom-in on Stacey to set up a punchline in the premiere, and the lads’ pub back and forth in episode two.

So, yeah, sue me, I’m having a great time here. Watching it now, it sparkles with nostalgia.

This ensemble are a bunch of self-believers – just take Smithy’s ‘this is a crisis of epic proportions!’ and mixing such epic points of view lend to classic sitcom territory: Smithy and Nessa’s courting game; Pam’s committed attempt to play vegetarian. As preposterous they sometimes feel, these are people we know, heightened, then turned in the light for nuance.

I like Gavin, a straight man with a bit of edge to make him interesting, and the reveal that Stacey’s family are quietly all weirder than her, especially Brynn, works.


Nessa is the show’s treasure, though, but not for the reason you’d expect. Among the catchphrases and confrontations, here’s a character (brought to life excellently by writer Ruth Jones) stealthily challenging the narrative, aware of where it’s going with little time for playing around. That’s a fine strategy to keep events interesting, and they move fast.

Some minor errors: there’s little nuance to Stacey in these introductions and Pamela is ridiculous (though, to her credit, her asking Stacey if there’s a pandemic in Barry upon learning everyone gets drunk there gained a hearty chuckle). Gavin’s trips to Stacey are unbelievably frequent in that car. Finally, I question if there’s enough quieter moments among the louder ones – subtlety gets you places, people.


Still, what sends this show into the higher echelons are its unique choices which it always gets right to a tee. The coach trip, for example, Essex/ Barry to London – a pop tune plays, and we just see how these characters feel. It makes them vulnerable for a minute, even Nessa. Stellar stuff, that. There’s a Mamma Mia vibe to the middle act of the premiere, which fills my heart, and I appreciate how Gavin gets real at the end of that episode. Comic misunderstanding fuels the opening of the sophomore story and the third is where Alison Steadman can feel right at home: a party.


I’ll come back to my first compliment – tender. There are reasons why audiences embraced Gavin and Stacey all the way back in 2007, and why I’m thankful to re-examine it fifteen years later. Between the gags and dramatic realism, the show’s world is, most of all, a fountain of affection for our triumphs and mistakes as people living this life.


In short, it’s a big hug.


Edited by Harriet

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