TV on DVD: Gavin & Stacey -- Season One (2007)

Own the BBC Hit Series on DVD

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In American television it's a sad but true fact that-- as ratings have dictated-- nobody really wants to follow a couple during their "Happily Ever After."

Traditionally, a show builds up its sexual tension from simmer to sizzle, finally the "will they or won't they?" question is answered and our leads tumble into bed together, ratings skyrocket as viewers tune in for the next two weeks or so, until they realize the inevitable truth that-- at least on television-- happy couples are boring.

To this end, we've been bombarded with the dysfunctional family sitcom that fills a set with a group of characters who would probably send a family or marriage therapist into a padded cell and let the insults fly. And unfortunately by doing so, we've been presented with two polar opposites.

On the one hand we have our popular '80s and '90s Sam and Diane or Ross and Rachel paradigm of the couples who fight, flirt, fight, flirt, and finally--well I must remove the alliteration as not to offend-- so we'll just say "fall into bed" or I mean love. Of course, this is all until-- and much like a teenage boy-- once we've had our fun, we lose interest pretty quickly and change the channel, thereby making the show's writing staff decide to lather, rinse, and repeat ad nauseum. I mean seriously, can anyone actually count the number of times Friends characters Ross and Rachel broke up and got back together again? Or, if it isn't this set up, we get The King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond which amuse for awhile, until you realize that the bickering is mean-spirited and decidedly unfunny.

It's no wonder that the sitcom ultimately died until it was given a second life once again by way of NBC's The Office which did involve both a "will they or won't they?" plot for Jim and Pam (until they've become the most boring characters on the show) as well as a "workplace family" tale of dysfunction. However, instead of going into the usual trappings, it managed to rise above the same tried-and-true formulas we'd seen time and time again, or at least until the third or fourth season, that is.

Of course, the secret is that The Office was an outsourced sitcom and one that we remade from Ricky Gervais' brilliant (and in my view) superior original version which aired on the BBC. While plenty of the UK's hottest shows (in all genres) from drama to comedy to reality have been picked up by our networks with varied success rates from ratings hits that are and were The Office to The Weakest Link to Dancing with the Stars to the failures of Cracker, Life on Mars, and Coupling-- it comes as no surprise and indeed a fair amount of disappointment that we're going across the pond once again.

And this time it's to remake one of the BBC's most genuinely refreshing, romantic, charming, and positive series in years with the delightful Gavin & Stacey which premiered on the network in 2007. A smash success that manages to endear its quirky cast of characters to audiences of all ages and walks of life as we learn in the extra features of the American release of the first season that it's a favorite in the British prison system as well as one that the elderly parents of some cast members enjoy-- it boldly tackles the "will they or won't they?" question in the very first episode with a resounding, "most definitely." Moreover, it dares to present a positive, whirlwind courtship of two crazy in love twenty-somethings from opposite backgrounds.

Inspired by the true story of actor and writer James Corden's friend Gavin who met his future wife on the telephone-- the Fat Friends and The History Boys star and his colleague and writing partner Ruth Jones conceived and penned the terrific series in which incidentally they also co-star as the wonderfully offbeat best friends of the eponymous characters.

Describing the title of the show as necessary since the two lead characters are the "glue" that hold everything together, essentially as you'll quickly gather, sweeping everyone up in their new-found romance, in the debut episode we encounter Love Actually's adorable Joanna Page as the twenty-something Stacey who lives in Barry, Wales.

Chatting daily on the phone with her soon-to-be "London Boy" love Gavin (Matthew Horne)-- after months of amiable conversation and flirtation, finally the two decide to take the plunge and meet up, each bringing along a friend as a buffer for safety and emotional security sake.

While Stacey's perpetually worried and gadget-obsessed Uncle Bryn (the hilarious Rob Brydon) wishes she'd bring along more than just the rape horn he purchased for her, as soon as we lay eyes on Ruth Jones' off-the-wall, adventurous, intimidating but fiercely loyal Nessa, we realize she's got all the protection she needs.

Although it's admittedly unclear how and why Nessa and Stacey would have hit it off so strongly since they're polar opposites in both appearance and personality (and there's quite an unspecified age difference), Nessa makes the ultimate foil in ensuring the series doesn't get too sickly sweet for its own good. Consistently stunned by the wild stories that come tumbling out of her mouth with tales of a dark past involving drugs, promiscuity, marriages, death, and more all uttered nonchalantly by the tattooed Nessa-- we're already completely taken in by the strange friendship of the women when we meet Gavin's own version of Nessa-- played by Jones' series co-creator and writer, James Corden as Smithy.

Essentially Smithy is the closest thing that single-child Gavin has to a brother and one who unabashedly flirts with Gavin's mom Pam (Alison Steadman) as a naughtier version of Eddie Haskell. Yet, the irresponsible wing-man Smithy who's mysteriously alleged to be dating a seventeen and three quarters year old girl named Lucy whom we never see-- is apprehensive about making the trip with Gavin to say the least. Although on the surface, he seems mostly concerned that Stacey's friend will be a dog, it doesn't take too long to realize that what he's really afraid of is losing his best mate to a new partner which he finds instantly as soon as he lays eyes on Stacey.

In a hilariously uncomfortable first episode where the quartet return back to the hotel for matter-of-fact discussion of who will do what where (intriguingly casting the Wales women as far worldlier and more confident than the London men), Nessa and Smithy begin what can only be described as a bizarre relationship of initially convenient and then "accidental" ("well, you're around, so I guess....") sex.

Of course, this leads to unexpected results as they watch their friends fall deeper and deeper in love even going as far as to say "I love you" in the first episode to a rather fast proposal and acceptance just shortly into their nine week courtship that takes them three months from meeting in person to (hopefully) walking down the aisle.

Predictably, once their respective families get together and secrets come tumbling out including some that are never solved such as an inarticulate tension between Uncle Bryn and Stacey's brother who lives abroad following a strange fishing trip incident-- the series really kicks into high gear as you'll no doubt tear into the approximately 166 minute DVD (consisting of Season 1's 6 episodes) as though it were a really great movie you don't want to end.

And throughout, we're taken in by the show that's not only exceptionally well-written but continually delights with a bevy of supporting characters no doubt simply brought in to make the audience laugh as much as the cast and crew did. While similar to America's Will & Grace, it's the supporting players of Smithy and Nessa (or on Grace-- Jack and Karen) that really manage to keep you in an uproar-- at it's heart it's just one unabashedly upbeat and romantic character ensemble piece that manages to leap all of the hurdles usually thrown in the path of romantic comedies.

Indeed, by bravely getting the tension out of the way and moving on into their relationship to make that far more exciting than the simply the American obsession over the possibility of sex as the families of eccentrics must overcome their respective prejudices regarding London and Wales, Gavin & Stacey moves into creatively fresh and imaginative territory. And soon it triumphs into a finale that ends with the unique ability of blending a happy ending with a mini-mystery and a revelation about one of the characters which will have audiences craving the second installment.

While it's been reported that a third and final season of the series will begin production this summer to ensure it won't overstay its welcome or become predictable or repetitive (similar to Gervais' wise decision to end both Extras and The Office after just two seasons), unfortunately it was also announced that although NBC was initially interested in a remake (but had the good sense to back off), "now, ABC is developing the potential series."

Faster than you can ask, "do you think we'll rely on regional cliches and stereotypes?" Jones revealed in an interview that the American version of Gavin would be a New Jersey native and Stacey would be a resident of South Carolina.

However, in lieu of settling for a second rate retelling (and one that I fervently hope will be yanked from ABC's plans in the hopes that perhaps new American writers will get a chance to develop interesting plots of their own and the BBC will be left in peace), I urge you to skip the rental and go ahead and buy the first season of the Warner Brothers/BBC Video release of Gavin & Stacey.

A work that's not just one of the most satisfying romantic comedies and all-around sitcoms I've seen in quite awhile, but furthermore it's also one that's especially delicious to watch all in one sitting to relish in the little jokes that reoccur before checking out the behind the scenes extras to learn how it all came together with dynamite TV chemistry.