I TALK Gavin & Stacey, Christmas Special 2019


WARNING: This review does contain spoilers for this year's Gavin & Stacey Christmas special.

After a 10-year absence, Gavin & Stacey returned with its best episode yet. Full of warmth, heart and humour it felt as if our favourite characters from Barry and Billericay had never been away.

The Christmas Day schedule for BBC One has stayed the same for a number of years now; Her Majesty will kick things off at 3pm, then there'll be a family film followed by Strictly Come Dancing, Michael McIntyre (or Doctor Who), Call the Midwife, EastEnders and Mrs Brown's Boys, in that order.

This year however, the schedule varied slightly, because sandwiched in between Call The Midwife and EastEnders was the highly anticipated return of Gavin & Stacey, a show which aired its (previously) final episode on New Year's Day in 2010. Feeling old now? Me too.

The decision to bring back a show as well-loved and fondly remembered as Gavin & Stacey could not have been an easy one to make - for writers James Corden and Ruth Jones that is - I can't imagine Shane Allen and Charlotte Moore at the BBC took much persuading.

Gavin & Stacey is one of my all-time favourite TV shows. I was one of the half a million who watched its opening episode on BBC Three in 2007 and also one of the 10 million who tuned in to see it bow out three years later. In the past 10 years I've probably watched each episode hundreds of times and through I Talk Telly, I've been lucky enough to interview most of the cast as they promote a number of different projects.

So when James Corden broke the news on Twitter back in May that the series would be returning for a one-off Christmas special, I was overjoyed, I could hardly contain my excitement. After all, unlike other comedies on television, you really believe that the characters in Gavin, Stacey have continued with their lives since the series ended.

But after 20 near-perfect episodes, I did have my concerns. Would they be able to recreate the magic they once had?

Thankfully, after the very first scene in which Gavin chatted to Stacey on the phone (the same way he did at the start of all but two of the previous episodes), my mind was put to rest and I knew that we were in for a real treat.

In that opening scene alone there were nods to the series three finale as Stacey tells her daughter she'll "be there now in a minute" and Gavin tells Stacey that there are "Less than 18 hours to go now babe" - almost word-for-word what Gavin said to Stacey the day before Nessa's wedding to Dave Coaches.

One of my favourite things about what James Corden and Ruth Jones have achieved with this year's script are the many, but not too many, allusions to earlier episodes, a way for Ruth and James to reward super fans like myself.

For example, Nessa giving everyone a single tap for Christmas reminded me of the time they all received a single Celebrations chocolate from her, Dave and Neil, the baby as did the moment earlier on in the episode when Neil is opening up his Christmas presents and just out of focus on the coffee table you can see a box of Celebrations. Again, not vital to the plot but I smiled when I saw it.

Then there's Pete winning Dawn round with the lyrics to Cindi Lauper's Time after Time, a nod to the time they renewed their wedding vows with vows lifted directly from Coldplay's Fix You and Michael Jackson's Ben and anyone on social median will be thankful of the three gif-worthy "Oh my Christs!" we get from Pamela.

The moment we first see Smithy and Gavin back together, is an almost frame-for-frame recreation of that scene in series two when Smithy knocks on Gavin's door and launches into John Barnes' rap from World in Motion, only this time it's Elton John's festive classic, Step Into Christmas which gets the hallway singalong treatment.

If there's one thing Gavin & Stacey never shied away from, it was a good singalong; Smithy and Rudi smashing the shit out of Estelle and Kanye West's American Boy in a car park, Gavin and Smithy's motorway duet of Do They Know it's Christmas? and Bryn and Nessa's rousing rendition of Islands in the Stream. So you can imagine my delight when at The Dolphin, Bryn and Nessa take to the stage for what we learn has become a bi-annual tradition - to sing The Pogues classic, Fairytale of New York.

But if you've never watched an episode before, the script is so beautifully written and crafted that anyone can dip in and understand the dynamics between the Shipmans and the Wests (an unspoken gag which never gets old).

After a 10-year absence, Gavin & Stacey returned with its best episode yet. Full of warmth, heart and humour it felt as if our favourite characters from Barry and Billericay had never been away.

But as much as the new episode alluded a number of to what came before, 10 years had passed since Dave Coaches walked away from Nessa at the altar, telling her "It's been a blast, sugar tits", since a pregnant Stacey agreed to ring the Chinese takeaway "Now in a minute" and since Smithy turned Welsh and asked "What's occurin'?"

So what exactly has happened since Gavin & Stacey was last on our screens? Well, we discover that Gavin and Stacey went on to have three children; Harry, Meghan and Caitlyn and moved next door to Gwen having been left the house by Doris who sadly passed away seven years ago on Christmas Eve.

Elsewhere, we find out that one of Chinese Alan's kids is now a bouncer at Vodka Revolutions, Nessa's still living with Bryn and "Good old salt of the earth Peter Sutcliffe" - a gag which will NEVER get old - has recently developed a drug problem... of sorts.

Unlike the last Christmas special, it's off to Barry for Christmas Day and Bryn is "cooking Christmas dinner for over 13 people" because as we learn from Mick, the arrangement has always been to alternate Christmases between Barry and Billericay - much to Pam's annoyance.

Of course Bryn (and his cardigan) cooking Christmas dinner turned out to be a stroke of genius, giving Gwen a walkie talkie so that they could communicate, sleeping in on Christmas Day due to one too many Archers the night before and the mixup with the Christmas Puddings, all whilst wearing his "Niece went to Greece..." t-shirt!

As for Gavin and Stacey, one route James and Ruth could have easily gone down was splitting them up, or revealing that Gavin cheated on Stacey, but thankfully they didn't. The biggest problem the couple face is the lack of sex, which is really starting to get to Stacey.

Keen for her and Gavin not to drift apart, she takes him back to the spot where they first said to each other "I love you" whilst pointing out how Barry is full of all their memories - including the time they, y'know, on the ghost train.

And I'll admit, I got a bit emotional when they recreated that famous "I love you. I love you too." scene, all whilst Paolo Nutini's Last Request played in the background, the same song that was playing the first time they slept together.

As much as Gavin & Stacey is about Gavin and Stacey, I've always been more interested in the relationship (or lack of) between Smithy and Nessa. Smithy has turned into a brilliant father for Neil, committing to seeing him every weekend and almost every Wednesday and somehow, against all odds, him and Nessa have made it work.

Despite their surface level hatred for one another, the similarities between them both are difficult to ignore and there's always been an unknowing fondness there which we as viewers have been able to see. Never more so than in this year's Christmas special.

Even though he's been going out with Sonia for 11 months, it's not until Christmas Day that everyone gets to meet her, us included, and it doesn't take long for us to realise that despite his intentions to propose to Sonia on Boxing Day, Smithy is much better suited with Nessa.

The episode of course builds to THAT final scene with THAT cliffhanger, as throughout the episode there are a number of hints dropped to make us think that Nessa and Smithy have over the years, changed the way they feel about each other.

After admitting to Neil, the baby that she's looking forward to seeing his dad, Nessa later tells Smithy that he's a "cracking dad" and during her performance of Fairytale of New York they share a knowing glance before staring in Smithy's direction as she sings the line "I've got a feeling this year's for me and you".

But of course the most telling scene is when Neil, the baby, walks into his mum's bedroom and says "Merry Christmas mum, Merry Christmas dad" because yes, once again, Nessa and Smithy slept together - which we later learn is an annual occurrence.

So will Smithy accept Nessa's proposal? How long are we going to have to wait before we find out the answer? Surely the purpose of the cliffhanger is to assure us that Gavin & Stacey will be back at some point. I understand that a series may no longer be possible but another special next Christmas would be lovely.

James, Ruth and the rest of the cast should be incredibly proud of what they have achieved with this year's special. I didn't know what I wanted for Christmas this year, but it turns out it was this.

Gavin & Stacey is available to watch now on BBC iPlayer and repeated Monday 30th December at 10.30pm on BBC One