By Leah Martindale, Film & TV Editor
The hotly awaited Gavin & Stacey (2007-) Christmas special landed on screens across the nation at 8.30pm on Christmas Day. Is there any way for a one-off special to possibly live up to the iconism of this British classic though? Beware: from this point on, spoilers abound.
Gavin & Stacey has become somewhat of a cult classic in the 12 years since it first aired. With three hilarious seasons and one Christmas special bridging seasons 2 and 3, the show had a relatively low 21 episodes. However, it joins the ranks of Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) and The Office (2001-2003) as a legendary British sitcom with a fairly minimal run; Fawlty Towers clocks in at a measly 12 episodes, and The Office barely beats it with 14, despite its hugely successful American spin-off.
The beauty of Gavin & Stacey lies in neither Gavin (Mathew Horne) or Stacey (Joanna Page) themselves, as they prove themselves drama after drama to be one of the most boring and ill-dressed couples of all television history. The fun of the show, rather, comes from its whole host of ensemble family and friends that accompany them on their nonsensical adventures.
From the imperceptible, hilariously mysterious Vanessa ‘Nessa’ Jenkins to the gut-busting - in more ways than one - Neil ‘Smithy’ Smith, there are comedic gems on both sides of the family. Gavin’s parents Pam and Mick are always ready to provide a meme-able line or two, and Stacey’s Uncle Bryn’s guileless charm is only intensified by the fishing trip mystery threaded throughout the series.
While many things have changed, the tropes and traditions have stayed the same
The Christmas special opened in the recognisable Barry Island and Essex houses, with Gavin and Stacey on the phone, as Gavin says, ‘like old times’. Within the opening scene we learn the couple now has three children: Harry, Megan, and I believe Sophie, and are struggling to obtain a gift for Harry. Some smooth exposition from Mick tells us that the families alternate houses every Christmas, and Pamela is bringing her own food, towels, and insect spray - much to Mick’s dismay.
The special’s opening is perfectly cyclical to the first series: Bryn is yet again demonstrating a piece of technology for Gwen - in 2007 it was Stacey’s rape alarm, in 2019 it is a set of walkie-talkies to co-ordinate the Christmas dinner; Smithy enters the Shipman household with a trademark sing-song, rousing the whole family in a rendition of Elton John’s classic ‘Step Into Christmas’.
All of the characters, from titular protagonists to barely seen legends, have some rounding out to their stories. There is a classic Shipman-West drama as Stacey finds the matchbook she stole from the hotel the first night they met, which leads to a lot of emotion from both of them on the Island - the spot in Barry where they first said they loved each other - as Stacey confronts Gavin about their sexual inadequacy and their evolution as people as well as parents.
While many things have changed, the tropes and traditions have stayed the same. One tragic change is the revelation that Nessa and Smithy aren’t still together, though they seem to be co-parenting as well as could be expected. They are doing especially well with their residual sexual energy still fizzling and the interference of Smithy’s new girlfriend Sonia (Laura Aikman), who calls him ‘Neil’, berates him about his weight, and is frankly a massive cow.
I love Gavin and Stacey, but including the "f*ggot" line in the Fairytale of New York singalong is careless and a real missed opportunity. Imagine if Nessa had simply said "Oh! Bryn! To be honest, at the end of the day like, I feels uncomfortable using that word in 2019."— Little Saint Nick Levine ☃️ (@mrnicklevine) December 25, 2019
Chinese Alan’s kids are old enough to be out clubbing, Dirtbox is divorced, and Budgie is a granddad; Big Fat Sue has been gossiping again, and Japanese Margaret has been down to the gym; Doris has passed away and left her house to Gavin and Stacey, which Nessa is allegedly contesting in the courts. This last fact is sadly true, as the episode was dedicated to actress Margaret John, who passed in 2011.
Corden and Jones tease us with hints to classic conundrums such as Nessa’s age - she says that Stacey at 17 years old puts her at about 35, to the room’s stifled dismay - and the fishing trip - the secret of which is nearly revealed before the children run in. Many hilarious quotes come back in full swing, from Nessa’s ‘Oh!’ to Pam’s ‘Oh my Christ!’. ‘Tidy’ is used in abundance, Bryn’s banter is still resoundingly dead in the most charming of ways, and Pam’s grandson is officially her ‘Little Prince’s Prince’.
They step back into the characters like stepping back into old skin
Though many of the actors, particularly Corden and Horne, have embodied vastly different characters in the intervening years they step back into the characters like stepping back into old skin. By the end of the episode, all drama is resolved, except for one detail. Nessa loves Smithy, and for the third time in her life she has said it to a man, not just ‘you too’, or ‘thanks’. The episode ends on her proposing over a ‘horrible’ cigarette to him.
Overall, the episode is a gratifying ending to the show’s lingering ends and emotional investment. My only issue lies with the cliffhanger: either we never know what happened, which is just another Gavin & Stacey mystery, the likes of which I’m not sure I could stand - or we get a new series, which would kill the charm and delight of the original series by spinning it into a cash cow.
Generally though, there is no better way that our favourite charming characters could be revived without ruining something in the process. All in all, this is one of the better Christmas specials I have ever seen.
Featured: Courtesy of BBC
Where do you think Gavin & Stacey plan on going from this plot twist ending?