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From Across the Pond: BBC America's "Gavin & Stacey"

Every now and then a series comes along that's just so charming, just so perfectly witty and adorable, that you just know that the poor sod who tries to adapt it for American television is going to have a proper mess on his hands.

The latest British series to be developed as a US series is, of course, Gavin & Stacey, which has a script order at NBC. But rather than wait to see what will likely be a massively sub-par retread of this fantastic concept, why not tune in to see the British original version of Gavin & Stacey, which kicks off Tuesday night on BBC America.

Written by co-stars Ruth Jones and James Corden, Gavin & Stacey tells the story of, well, Gavin and Stacey, a pair of star-crossed would-be lovers who connect over the telephone at work and finally work up the nerve to see each other in person to see if it's actually a match made in heaven... Gavin (Mathew Horne) is an Essex boy (think New Jersey) who loves beer, footie, and hanging out with his best mate Smithy (Corden). He works with computers and doesn't seem--on the surface anyway--to be the sort of guy who would sweep a woman off her feet, much less turn out to be a consummate romantic.

Gavin's status-conscious middle-class family--including the phenomenal Alison Steadman as his histrionic mum Pamela and Larry Lamb as his father Mick--couldn't be more different than that of down-to-earth Stacey (Joanna Page), who lives in Barry, Wales with her cheery, widowed omelette-making mum Gwen (Melanie Walters), her odd uncle/surrogate father Bryn (the always fantastic Rob Brydon), and her brusque best friend Nessa (Jones). Gavin and Stacey might come from two totally different worlds but, after finally meeting face-to-face, discover that they couldn't be more perfect for each other.

The result could be cliched but in the skilled hands of writers Ruth Jones and James Corden, Gavin & Stacey never veers into hackneyed sitcom tomfoolery, instead focusing on the innocence of Gavin and Stacey's love for one another (despite many an obstacle, including Stacey's extremely checkered romantic past), the eccentricities of both of their families, the disparity between their local cultures, and the venom displayed by their best mates, Smithy and Nessa, who seem to loathe one another, except for that spark of sexual energy between them.

While other series might have crafted Gavin and Stacey as far too perfect to be taken seriously, here Horne and Page make them crackle with realism; while both are wholly sympathetic, there's layers of characterization here as both clearly have a lot to learn about one another after jumping into a relationship. They're realistically flawed individuals--but not damaged goods by any means--and we see their potential and capacity for love, understanding, and compromise through their whirlwind romance.

Over the course of six episodes, we see Gavin and Stacey travel back and forth between Barry and Essex, using all manner of transport, try to assimilate into one another's families (an episode where Stacey gets an enormous pimple is both hysterical and touching), argue, make up, and commit to one another. It might be the fastest courtship in television history, yet it never seems rushed or illogical. (However, the final episode does seem to miss a beat and seems to somewhat hastily jump into the future without resolving some of the issues of the previous installment.)

That brief criticism aside, Season One of Gavin & Stacey packs a mighty comedic punch. BBC America provided all six of Season One's installments for review and I literally sat with the wife and watched all six in a row, as I could not take my eyes off of Gavin & Stacey, which is both heartfelt and wickedly funny at the same time. (No small feat at that.) There's the haughty indignance of Gavin's mum Pamela, who is given to hysterical outbursts, pretending she's a vegetarian (in a long-running gag), and babying her "little prince" Gav, and the strangeness of the Barry set, with their constant omelette-cooking, funny Welsh accent, and the bizarre Uncle Bryn, prone to reminding everyone that his brother (and Stacey's father) died recently.

But nothing comes close to Jones' incomparable Nessa, who has a salty anecdote for every occasion, a libido that won't quit, and a past that seems to include all manner of illicit, illegal, and dangerous occupation. Fortunately, Jones and Corden have wisely opted not to make Nessa's gruff exterior--tattoos, black leather, and all--conceal a heart of gold; no, Nessa is just who she claims to be (at least in the first season) and her bluntness makes her all the more appealing, especially contrasted with the sunniness of her best mate Stacey. The end of Season One finds Nessa at a bit of a crossroads and I cannot wait to see which direction Jones and Corden decide to take her in.

Every element of Gavin & Stacey's production--from the wickedly funny dialogue and breakneck plotting to the pitch-perfect casting--come together to form an appealing gem of a comedy of a sort that's rarely seen these days on television: one that manages to toe the line between acidic and saccharine, yet always remains tantalizingly right on point.

Gavin & Stacey premieres Tuesday evening at 8:40 pm ET/PT on BBC America.

Comments

Like "Pushing Daisies" this show somehow manages to get away with being as sweet as cherry pie without making you want to gag. Rather, you'll find yourself rooting for this sunshine and lollypops couple and laughing hysterically at the same time.
Vance said…
Jace and Danielle, you have it right on the button. Somehow this charming show is both extremely romantic and yet realistically depressing at the same time and I LOVED THE ENTIRE SERIES!

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