Gavin & Stacey: A Special Christmas review: back at its best

The Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special is full of love and laughs, and leaves room for another return visit to Barry Island. Spoilers ahead...

This review contains spoilers.

A Special Christmas (2019)

Good people of Barry Island, Billericay and all the service stations of the M4, rejoice! For unto us a sitcom special is given. We thought it would never happen, but miraculously, somehow, the huge cast of Gavin and Stacey have come together for a new Christmas special after ten years away, and it was lush.

This hour-long special is really an episode of two halves, the first dedicated to the titular Gavin and Stacey and the second to the couple the series has always really been about (not least because they are played by the writers), Nessa and Smithy. Gavin and Stacey’s story is typical of the strengths of the show and these two characters in particular – it feels very real, dealing with a common real life problem (keeping a sexual relationship alive around three kids), and resolves itself with a sweet heart-to-heart. Their trip down memory lane was, as they themselves observed, rather cheesy, but that fits the nature of the characters, whose relationship has always represented the height of romance against Nessa and Smithy’s more tempestuous ups and downs.

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On paper, the developments between Nessa and Smithy here look like the worst of sitcom clichés – they appeared to be together in the series finale, but now they’ve broken up again, Smithy is engaged to an awful newcomer, only for them to sleep together, building up to a grand declaration of love in the street. And yet somehow, in the hands of Ruth Jones and James Corden, none of this feels like a cliché at all. This couple have always fought and made up, formed relationships with others only to find themselves back together, and whether they were together for a while, or have simply been friends with benefits for ten years, none of these developments are out of character. Whatever is going on in their relationship, the depiction of their co-parenting of Neil the Baby is really lovely, and we see them working as a team here in a new and beautiful way.

Laura Aikman plays Sonya, Smithy’s new girlfriend, and she does a fantastic job of creating a character who is utterly and completely unlikeable within about ten minutes. It’s a real credit to the actor that while we can see why Smithy likes Sonya, who is beautiful and seems very fond of him, we are also immediately put off her by her unthinking rudeness, lack of interest in Smithy’s young son, and the way Smithy – hilariously – changes personality when he’s with her. It’s impossible not to root for him to go (back?) to Nessa. When her confession of love finally comes, while no description of it will stop it from sounding like an old trope, the reality on screen is that it feels absolutely heartfelt, and all the more so for coming from Nessa, a character we’ve never heard say those words to anyone. Besides, sometimes the old tropes are the best.

Almost all the series regulars were back – only Dave Coaches (Steffan Rhodri) and Smithy’s mum and sister (Pam Ferris and Sheridan Smith) were missing, but with only an hour to play with, it was impossible to fit everyone in. Margaret John, who played Gwen’s neighbour Doris, passed away in 2011 but was fondly remembered, with a toast to her character in the show and the episode dedicated to the actress.

The callbacks to the series were many and they were wonderful – funny and touching in equal measure. Fans got to see all the familiar beats that they’ve missed for ten years – Gavin and Stacey opening the episode with a phone call, Pete and Dawn’s hot and cold marriage, Smithy’s baby voice when talking to girlfriends on the phone, 11-year-old Neil still constantly referred to as “the baby”, Bryn’s intense stress levels around major events, Pam’s inability to say “No way, José” properly and of course, the fishing trip – which we really don’t want to know the details of at this point! Most importantly of all, of course, it’s all still hilariously funny. I laughed out loud multiple times and I watched it sober, in the middle of the day – I can only imagine how much fun this will be to watch on Christmas Day, well into the Christmas mint Baileys.

So, is this the end? Jones and Corden must know what they’re doing by ending on what seems to be a blatant cliffhanger – but with Corden properly Hollywood famous now, doing another full series (even a short British one) seems unlikely. We’re hoping we might see some more of these characters (maybe a wedding?) but if this is the end, we can live with it. An open ending full of uncertainty fits Nessa and Smithy down to the ground, after all.

Still, that ending does beg for a sequel, and what’s most plausible that they might end up doing a series of irregular Christmas specials, as several British sitcoms have done before (The Vicar Of Dibley, Only Fools And Horses, Absolutely Fabulous). If they can keep the quality this high – and keep Nessa and Smithy together, please – we’d be there for that. Just if you’re reading this, Corden and Jones, do us a favour and don’t do a movie. Gavin and Stacey is a show that feels so completely real and British and homely, it belongs on the small screen, to be watched surrounded by love and family and the Christmas spirit. Thank you for all the laughs, and Nadolig Llawen!

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