The world of Gavin And Stacey simply couldn’t exist without telephones. With the two families living in separate countries, and being two of the most mutually supportive families ever, they need fully charged batteries and bloody good reception, otherwise life would just absolutely fall apart.
Since this show first aired in 2007, co-writers and stars James Corden and Ruth Jones have opened every episode with a phone call between Stacey (Joanna Page) and Gavin (Mat Horne). It’s a comforting format and establishes where everyone is physically and where they stand emotionally right at the top of the episode.
Series 3 opens with Gav on his first morning at a new job in Cardiff, being phoned by an anxious Stacey after only 11 minutes at his desk. Struggling to look professional in front of his new boss, he answers the phone several times, first to his mum Pamela (Alison Steadman) who wants to know how her “little prince” is doing, then his dad Mick (Larry Lamb), who should know better, and finally Smithy (Corden), who gets to say nothing more than a raucous “Gav-a-laahh” before a mortified Gav hangs up.
And so the natural order is restored, with long-suffering, sane (read: ever so slightly dull) Gavin at the centre of two linked families and the friends connected by life-long bonds. Never was there such an emphatically supportive family network as this one, in which nobody goes a day without a hug, a pat on the back or a comforting omelette.
Here, for Gav’s first day at work, Stacey goes as far as sending him a good luck balloon. “Was it wrong, d’you think?” asks Stace. “No, love, s’only a bit of fun,” answers her mum Gwen (Melanie Walters). Later, Stace does a lame imitation of Smithy’s robot dance to try to settle Gav’s homesickness, met with the innocently heartfelt, “Oh, come ‘ere, babe, you’re so lovely.”
It’s the inherent good nature of all the characters in Gavin And Stacey that makes the comedy so winning and warming. Even hard-as-nails Nessa (Jones), who has lived five hundred people’s lives all at once and can barely curl her lip, let alone smile, is well and truly loved by all and equally loving in return. Barry Island’s senior potty-mouth Doris (Margaret John) might be shunned in other quarters; not here, where she’s an integral part of all family events, including, in this episode, baby Neil’s christening.
Yes, Neil Noel Edmund Smith is thriving, slung in a napsack on Nessa’s back so it’s “easier to smoke”, and definitely not named after Noel Edmunds. The Shipmans and Smiths have journeyed along the motorway to Barry for one of these big, emotionally charged events that Jones and Corden plot and write so very well.
We’ve now met Smithy’s mum, Cath, in an only very slightly disappointing characterisation by Pam Ferris. Cath is a lazy, lifeless drunk and the opposite of Pamela Shipman in every way. I suppose, now I’ve got used to the rather flat, downbeat character of Cath, that it does actually add up. There had to be a reason why Smithy had attached himself to Pam and Mick and was hardly ever at home, so in need of a warm and loving family was he. But even so, in a cast of characters of which the collective loveliness is almost overwhelming, it’s a little risky to let in a bit of bad blood.
The tension between Nessa, Smithy and Dave Coaches (Steffan Rhodri) continues to stew nicely, with more and more signs creeping in that Nessa does feel a certain draw to Smithy and is less enamoured with Dave, despite the fact that the christening party is doubling up as their engagement party.
Corden does a lovely job with Smithy’s fierce protectiveness of the baby and it’s hard not to feel desperately sorry for him. Hilariously, he’s still somewhat tied to the ever-teenage Lucy, who is a brilliant unseen sitcom character. This week “she’s on some student exchange thing, dicking around the Dordogne.” We know Smithy would drop her in a heartbeat if life with Nessa ever becomes a real prospect for him.
Other familiar features have made a confident return for this series, including the clever peppering of everyday contemporary references that make these families feel just like our own.
Pamela thinks she might audition for Britain’s Got Talent, a suggestion that Mick meets with the gentle tease of,”Yeah, you do have a touch of the Susan Boyles about you.” The affectionate banter between the histrionic Pam and stoical Mick is just as tight and funny as ever, my favourite of Pam’s lines in this episode being: “Your only son has emigrated abroad to another country and you couldn’t care one jot. You couldn’t care a J-O-T-E.”
So, in amongst all the chaos of the christening and the collision of family members, the devastation caused by Doris having failed to bring the salad because she “couldn’t be arsed”, and a cringeworthy performance of Something Inside So Strong with Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) singing his fabulous heart out and Doris on the drum kit, Gavin and Stacey retreat for a customarily quiet and pure moment to themselves. The next, natural step for them is to try for a baby of their own.
As has been the pattern in all the episodes and specials we’ve enjoyed so far, any news of change in the Shipman and West world will be met with a humongously emotional fall-out, with the panicky Smithy at the centre. Words will be said, hugs will be had. A round of omelettes should calm everybody down, eh Gwen?