Christmas is always the perfect time to reunite with old friends, though if you haven’t caught up in a while it’s interesting to see how the years have treated them.
Some friends have moved away and have new stories to tell, some have fallen on hard times. And then there are those that, no matter how many Christmases it’s been since you last saw them, no matter how the world has changed, seem exactly the same, a blast from your past that it’s easy to slip back into a vibe with.
And so it is when catching up with the Wests and Shipmans in the new Gavin & Stacey Christmas special, the much-hyped return for Ruth Jones and James Corden’s juggernaut of a sitcom that last aired nearly a decade ago.
Against all the odds, Corden and Jones have managed to completely recapture the tone of the show that made them and their castmates into stars, and it’s a hugely impressive achievement – even if that lack of evolution does sometimes tell in key moments.
Almost 10 years after we left them behind, the new special sees the Essex and Barry Island clans reuniting once again for the festive season, though this time (unlike the original festive episode that aired in 2008) Christmas is being held in Wales, much to the chagrin of Alison Steadman’s Pam.
Titular lovers Gavin & Stacey (Mathew Horne and Joanna Page), now parents, have lost something of the spark from their relationship, Bryn (Rob Brydon) is stressed about cooking for 13 and as for Smithy and Nessa’s (Corden and Jones) status…well, you’ll have to see for yourselves.
And that’s pretty much the plot, as far as it goes. There are no massive gimmicks, surprise trips abroad or long-lost cousins turning up. Instead, as ever, Gavin and Stacey mines warmth and humour from the minutiae of everyday relationships and modern absurdities, as demonstrated by its cast of larger-than-life characters (remember the episode framed almost entirely around ordering a curry?).
Said characters are back doing what they do best – Bryn still hopelessly naïve and stressed, Gwen (Melanie Walters) still baffled and overlooked, Pam still over-the-top and Mick (Larry Lamb) still flabbergasted by the chaos around him – and the episode even finds room for a quick visit from toxic Essex couple Pete and Dawn (Adrian Scarborough and Julia Davis) in one stand-out interlude.
Overall, it’s astonishing how much this just feels like... well, like Gavin & Stacey. Somehow you have the sense that off-screen, without us knowing, hundreds of episodes of Gavin & Stacey have been playing out for these characters, their lives continuing even if unseen by us. Apart from a few key character changes, you could put this special next to any previous episode and it would seem like a direct continuation – and in this age of disappointing TV reboots and sequels, that’s quite something.
But maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be said for a bit of growth as well. After all, sometimes when you catch up with those old unchanged friends at Christmas, there’s a moment, just one, where you wonder… really? Are you still doing that? And the novelty of the nostalgia wears off as you wonder whether it’s an entirely good thing to have your life frozen, like a fly in amber.
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For Gavin and Stacey, this characterises itself with a joke here, a pop culture reference or two there that feels a little misjudged, a little jarring – moments that they definitely would have got away with in 2008 but today stand out amongst all the usual warmth and fun the series brings. Again, no spoilers, but you’ll probably know what I’m talking about when you see it.
Still, these are relatively minor quibbles. For fans, this is the Gavin & Stacey special they’ve been waiting for, respectful to what’s come before (yes, the fishing trip gets a mention) but without retreading old ground, or even covering the same Yuletide traditions as the previous special (instead, the pre-Christmas pub trip, carolling and a few other unused activities are riffed on).
Despite living on different continents and having hectic schedules, Corden and Jones have done something incredible and managed to bring Gavin and Stacey back to life for one last Christmas miracle.
And based on that ending, it might not be our last trip "down Barry" after all…
Gavin & Stacey airs on at 8:30pm on Christmas Day (Wednesday 25th December) on BBC One