Looking Back At GAVIN & STACEY - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Looking Back At GAVIN & STACEY

Tony’s off down Barry.
The idea of sitcoms about a romance that succeeds in spite of all the baggage that comes attached to the two protagonists had been proven in the 1990s and into the 2000s, with the likes of Friends in the US, and Coupling in the UK.

So when James Corden and Ruth Jones set out to write a sit-com with broadly similar themes, they knew that the basic format could work, but also that they needed something different to hook an audience.

The idea of Gavin & Stacey is almost ludicrously simple – Gavin (Matthew Horne), a young man from Billericay in Essex, meets Stacey (Joanna Page), a young woman from Barry in South Wales on a double date, each of them bringing along their best friend. Smithy (James Corden) accompanies Gavin, and Nessa (Ruth Jones) rides shotgun for Stacey.

Gavin and Stacey disappear to a hotel room, and crown their date with a night of passion. Smithy and Nessa take a different hotel room, and spend a night of highly experimental regret together.

From there, Gavin & Stacey takes three series to explore the trials and tribulations of a long-ish-distance relationship in the first decade of the new millennium.

If you think that sounds like quite a while to go from sleeping together to a happy-ever-after, you have a point. But what you’re missing is the characterisation and the texture of the inter-relationships that form the lives of Gavin and Stacey, both when they’re together and when they’re apart.

When you realise that Gavin’s parents are played by the always-fabulous Alison Steadman, and the reliably-believable Larry Lamb, you can start to get a sense of that texture. There’s a danger with Steadman of immediately pigeonholing her in one of her previous star roles, like Beverly Moss in Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party, or Mrs Bennet from the landmark 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice.

But in Pamela Shipman, Steadman goes beyond any such pigeonholing and creates another landmark performance. Never as over the top as the other Steadman standouts we’ve mentioned, Pamela nevertheless generates an almost constant sense of energy in the series, whether it’s focused on maintaining her house, worrying about her son, alternately despairing of and deeply loving her husband, and trying to do her best to be welcoming to the young Welsh woman who may or may not be good enough for her little prince.

Lamb, for his part, works well against that energy, delivering a highly believable husband and father, often talking Pamela down from her energy-spirals, or picking just the right moment to disappear and leave her to do what he knows she needs to do. While never as overtly over-protective of Gavin as Pamela is, he’s still a supportive figure for his son.

This is one of the remarkable things that makes Gavin & Stacey stand out from the crowd. None of the characters are ever written or played with the intention of creating whacky scenarios, or of pushing a joke into the script. They’re all (with the possible exception of Nessa – and believe us, we’re getting to her) written with a purity of naturalism, allowing the comedy to bubble up of its own accord – as it probably does in over 90% of real families.

The same is true in Stacey’s house, where mam Gwen (Melanie Walters) provides a loving, stable base for Stacey, whose dad has died before we ever meet her. Unlike Gavin, Stacey’s not an only child – her brother Jason is in Spain – which means that while there’s lots of love in the home, Gwen is less intensely protective of her daughter than Pam is of her son.

And stepping in to fill a paternal role is Uncle Bryn, played by Rob Brydon. While on the outside, there’s more that’s overtly comedic about Bryn, part of that comes from a degree of naivety in the character, and part of it is because, stepping in to help the family when his brother died, he seems determined to be a positive force, including making the occasional spirit-raising joke. But he also has the best interests of his family at heart, and will stand up for them if situations demand it. Just… don’t ask him about that fishing trip with Jason. It’s a running semi-gag that something happened then that causes him deep discomfort to recall.

This might seem perverse, but among all these characters, Gavin and Stacey themselves are more or less ‘the straight men,’ the people who have a goal in mind and just want to get on with it – the goal in this case being to spend more time together, advance their relationship, and eventually, maybe, if things go well, get married. The fact that they’re crazy about each other is a fairly constant seam of solid old-fashioned romance, but that’s never to imply that they’re either too goody-goody or that if left to their own devices, they’d be permanently blissful. Corden and Jones are too realistic a pair of writers to let that be the case, and besides, you never want your nominal leads to come across as dull.

But compared to their best friends, they pale slightly into the roles of relatively uncomplicated, straightforward people who like what they know about each other and just want to know more, and more, and more.

Not for nothing has it long been a rule for writer-performers that if you want to get more work, you should write yourself in to whatever you’re working on.

Corden and Jones star as each of the protagonists’ best friends, Nessa and Smithy. This is the point at which the realism takes a sharp left turn and – to quote Nessa, “slings its hook.” But it’s also the point at which Gavin & Stacey does probably the best of its service to its audience.

Both Nessa and Smithy are built on larger templates than their friends and their families. Corden has been interviewed since Gavin & Stacey pointing out that as a bigger person, there’s a fundamental drive in British society towards ostracism, towards making you feel like you’re not included in parts of the happy ever after stories on which society is built – especially where love and sex are concerned.

As the astonishing best friends of Gavin and Stacey, Nessa and Smithy both challenge that societal expectation that bigger people will just ‘understand’ that they don’t qualify for the good things in life, or that they’ll just go away and be alone.

If Gavin & Stacey has a legacy beyond its warmth, its family support, and the investment of its audience in more than one romantic relationship, it’s the fact that Nessa and Smithy smash those assumptions to absolute smithereens.

Interestingly, they also do it in two polar opposite ways. Nessa is a fundamental force of nature, unashamed to loom and silent unless she’s comfortable, or unless the need arises. But with her signature greeting of “Ohhh!” (and yes, for any non-Welsh readers, that’s a perfectly genuine and acceptable greeting in South Wales, and essentially condenses any number of statements or questions into a single syllable, from “Hello, how are you?” to “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”), she is entirely unafraid to lay down the law of Nessa as and when she needs to.

Frequently wearing outfits that the societal gatekeepers would claim are not ‘meant’ for her, Nessa has taken life by, at the very least, the scruff of the neck, and when she’s among friends, she’s happy to recount any number of stories of the absurdist and freakish adventures that litter her past, from run-ins with the law to intimate encounters with the rich and famous. The point about which is it would be easy to dismiss Nessa as some sort of fantasist, making her life more interesting than it is – but occasionally, there’s evidence of the truth of her stories, and whenever she’s called upon to come through with the goods, Nessa will be there. That’s ultimately the power of the character – her usual silence, her ownership of her power, her gloriously unlikely adventures, and the rock solid quality of her friendship.

That ownership of her own power is crucial. When wearing one of those ‘unallowed’ outfits, if someone tells her she looks fabulous, her response is not self-deprecation, or gushing gratitude for reassurance, but a straightforward acknowledgement. “I know. I feels it.”

For any bigger girls or women watching Gavin & Stacey, Nessa was, quite frankly, a goddess. And let’s be honest, she was pretty much a goddess for any boys or men watching, too.

Smithy takes an entirely different approach to those same societal pressures to go away or be invisible if you’re a bigger man. If you run the risk of not SEEING Smithy, you’ll absolutely never manage not to hear him – he’s determined to be loud, ebullient, and to make his mark whenever he can, so that he’s unforgettable, vital, positive, and above all, the life and soul of any day, any night, any gathering he’s at. It’s rare that he ever addresses this as any kind of fightback against societal pressures, because in the real world, people don’t – it becomes part of who they are, and it’s part of who Smithy is. Absolutely loyal as the day is long to his friends, and to Gavin’s family, he has a habit of renaming people in ‘Smithy-speak,’ so Gavin is often Gavlar, Pamela Pamlar and so on – and it doesn’t matter than the nicknames are naff. His energy and bounce mean that they’re just what happen when Smithy’s around.

Different approaches, absolutely, but both valid ways in which bigger people reclaim parts of society that its gatekeepers would deny them.

When Smithy and Nessa hook up on their first night, it sets a whole second string of storytelling in motion – while the primary storyline is the more straightforward romance of Gavin and Stacey, arguably the more interesting one is the relationship between the two best friends – there are more bumps in their road, but one complication means that even if Gavin and Stacey don’t eventually work out, Nessa and Smithy are likely to remain at least elements of one another’s lives, and slowly, and surely, you begin to root for a second – significantly less starry-eyed – romance to work out.

Gavin & Stacey absolutely killed its competition when it first arrived on the scene in 2007, winning BAFTA and British Comedy Award trophies for its combination of warmth and hope, tinged with truth and the ultimate likeability of most of its characters. Its filmed style took it out of the ‘boxy’ and sometimes obviously fake settings of traditional sit-coms, and gave the realism of its relationships an extra boost that helped people engage with it.

To this day, it's what Nessa would call a crackin’ bit of telly. If the world feels too busy or noisy, turn off your phone, grab a blanket and curl up for a Gavin & Stacey marathon. Like Nessa (always) and Smithy (most of the time, despite being a bit of a prat), it won’t steer you wrong.

Watch Gavin & Stacey today with a seven day free trial of BritBox.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad