You’ve finished The Wire, Breaking Bad and The Killing but you’re still hungry for more boxsets. Fear not, Standard Issue writers are on the case with some gems you might not yet have seen. Vix Leyton tips her Welsh hat to Ruth Jones and James Corden.
Odds are, if you lived in the UK about seven years ago, at some point you would have heard “What’s occurring?” in a heavy, more often than not fake, Welsh accent. You might also have seen James Corden running round in an ill-fitting tracksuit answering to Smithy, but what you might not have seen was the show where it all began.
Long before there was Carpool Karaoke in LA with a cast of Hollywood characters, there was Barry Island, a small seaside town in South Wales, just outside Cardiff. Barry Island was home to BBC3’s sleeper smash hit, Gavin and Stacey. Sit down, let me make you an omelette, and I’ll tell you for why it was one of the best shows on TV.
I’m a Welsh girl living in London: Gavin and Stacey is sometimes the closest I get to being at home. On bad days, where I want my mum, I’d climb into it if I could. Ruth Jones and James Corden’s tale of two cities (Essex and Barry Island) plays out like a love letter to South Wales and all the character and oddity that make up the bonkers country responsible for yours truly.
Just like the sassy best mate you’ve known forever, Jones’s weapon of choice when it comes to expressing her endearment is through rapier-sharp, incredibly well-observed and merciless mocking of the truths (and stereotypes) about Welsh people. Essex isn’t spared either.
It’s rare to have a sitcom where the titular characters are – on paper – some of the weakest in the show, but it’s precisely what you get with Gavin Shipman and Stacey West (serial killer surnames are a running theme throughout the series).
“There are no massive ‘Oh my god!’ twists, and the biggest laughs belong to situations that we’ve all been in – just that they’re amped up to 11.”
I know a Stacey, you know a Stacey, we all know a Stacey. Odds are at one point, we’ve probably all been a bit of a Stacey. She’s the very definition of meh: needy, petty (in one scene – POSSIBLE SPOILER – she refuses to buy a pregnancy test because her school rival is on the till), has a slight whiff of damsel in distress – she could be anyone.
Billericay bloke Gavin, her bookend, is endearingly laddish, family orientated and devoted to his best mate; their long-distance romance is the backdrop of the narrative.
The stellar supporting cast is what everyone remembers, though to Page and Horner’s credit, it takes real skill to offer straight-man support to some of the best set-piece jokes of the series. Gavin and Stacey is truly a team sport, an ensemble tour de force, where you wouldn’t swap a single person, perfectly cast in their roles as imperfect people.
Rob Brydon is in the role of his life as Uncle Bryn, the male equivalent of the archetypal maiden aunt. Born and bred in South Wales, Bryn loves James Blunt, Sex and the City and, more likely than not (although it’s never confirmed) other men.
Other standout performances come from: James Corden in his breakout role as Gavin’s best mate ‘Smithy’; Sheridan Smith playing Corden’s endearingly chavvy sister Rudy (while they were going out in real life, fact fans – which adds a little frisson for me); Ruth Jones being absolutely perfect as Stacey’s best friend Nessa, a strong, no-nonsense woman who’s been round the block a few times.
And we haven’t even talked about Gavin’s magnificent parents: his spoilt rotten mother, Pam (Alison Steadman beautifully portrays a woman balancing a very real feeling of love and loathing for the woman who stole her little prince), and Larry Lamb’s fabulous, long-suffering Mick, who just wants a quiet life.
The true art of this programme is the everyday banality on which the comedy hangs. There are no massive ‘Oh my god!’ twists, and the biggest laughs belong to situations that we’ve all been in – just amped up to 11. The tension between best friends, the politics of who brings what to a buffet, the nerve-shredding stress of organising a surprise party, Uncle Bryn’s joy at the simpler pleasures of life (“I’ve got the box set of course, but I dunno, I think there’s something magical about watching it live.”).
These set-ups don’t just bring laughs, they also bring tears. The occasional dark moments in the narrative hit harder because they hit home – it’s all eminently relatable. Over the course of three series, I came to care about the characters that grew to be so much more than the stereotypes of the pilot. I revisit them often, and laugh just as much every time.
It also produced one of the funniest, greatest Christmas specials that I’ve got on my permanent festive playlist. Just like Love Actually, I have to watch it as close to Christmas as possible because otherwise I get too excited. It encapsulates all the ridiculous magic of Christmas Eve without ignoring the unglamorous elements and family tensions that feel achingly, comfortingly familiar.
There aren’t enough words in the world to describe why I think you should watch it, and I don’t want to give too much away – it’s to be experienced as nature (ie Jones and Corden) intended. If you’ve yet to watch it, I’m jealous of your eyes. You’re in for a treat.
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Vix is a financial PR and ginabler who lives and works in East London. As a result she long ago lost sight of whether riding a unicycle while wearing a monocle is par for the course on a normal day.