Having grown up with BBC comedy and drama such as Keeping Up Appearances, Only Fools and Horses, Open All Hours and Fawlty Towers, I have noticed that a common thread to the BBC's success is its strong character-driven programming. Indeed the single most common characteristic of British public television appears to be the outstanding caliber of writers it has been able to attract. It is with this in mind that I gleefully devoured all six first-season episodes of Gavin and Stacy, now available on DVD from BBC America.
Gavin (Mathew Horne) is a straight forward English bloke who works for a small electronics company in Billericay, Essex. Stacey (Joanna Page) comes from Barry near Cardiff, Wales. Gavin meets Stacey through work, and they strike up a telephone relationship, which has been going on for six months before meeting in person at the start of the series.
Stacey, 26, is a down-to-earth Welsh lass who lives with her mom (Melanie Walters). Gwen is a widow in her forties who dispenses omelettes and has an intense dislike for singer James Blunt. Stacy's father has passed away and so her surrogate father is Brin (Rob Brydon), her father's brother from across the street. He spends his days buried in the simplest of trivia, but then shares route planners and the World Wide Web to all who will listen. Stacey's omnipresent friend is Vanessa "Nessa" (Ruth Jones), a large, loud, and experienced friend, who feels her role in life is to protect Stacey from the rawer side of life — the very side of life in which she has no qualms furiously indulging.
Gavin, also 26, lives with his mom and dad, Mick (Larry Lamb) and Pam (Alison Steadman), in an upper middle-class suburban existence. Pam is a stay-at-home mom who feels she lives on the edge of TV-induced insanity and irrelevance as she looks after her husband and son. Mick is a mild-mannered small businessman who wants an uncomplicated life and is happy for circumstance to revolve around him, as long as it does not directly affect him. Gavin's best mate is Neil "Smithy" Smith, a friend from primary school. Smithy is Gavin's alter-ego who, like Stacey's Nessa, dispenses advice on how Gavin should run his life through his own jaded experience. Gavin and Smithy spend their days and nights together in the pursuit of women and exotic beers — that is until Stacey arrives. Smithy's volume of advice increases when Stacey turns up as he feels increasingly left out.
Gavin and Stacey Season One follows the path of their relationship from the first "live" meeting in Central London to the inevitable wedding in the season finale. In between, we discover how this relationship is reflected in their friends and family. While the couple's relationship is evolving we get to enjoy the finer points of British culture, including quiz night and fish-and-chips on the pier. The series is a fast-paced adventure, as the two get to know each other.
It is a comedy in the sense that humor both punctuates and moves the story forward. For example when Gavin, on impulse, proposes to Stacey at train station and gets mistaken for a terrorist. Both dramatic and funny, it portrays the sense of urgency they have for each other. Normally in a sitcom this staging would make the scene feel contrived; what carries it off is the feeling that you want their relationship to move forward and see what happens. In fact by episode two you indeed care about the couple and the pace of their relationship.
The closest comparison that springs to mind is Coupling, another BBC series that aired 2000 through 2004. Although in that series there are multiple woven assignations, Coupling is primarily about Steve and Sarah's stormy relationship. Like that series, Gavin and Stacey features swift dialog that is honest, raw and humorous.
The appeal of Coupling, is the circumstance of the central relationship within a whirlwind of other relationships. However, the appeal of Gavin and Stacey is its simple story line and strong characters. The writers have successfully woven together a main plot line, Gavin and Stacey's relationship, and strong subplots that reinforce the beauty of a simple honest association.
And this is what is exactly right about Gavin and Stacey. A simple, humor-filled story about two people we have a genuine affinity for — the type of couple we would like to have down our street.