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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Tom Nicholson

Please: no Gavin & Stacey reunion


Get the veggie burgers in the freezer: Joanna Page is up for doing another big Gavin & Stacey special, four years after 18.49 million viewers came on the last trip to Barry and watched Nessa going down on one knee to Smithy. Page, who played the daffy, sweet Stacey from the show’s inception in 2007, told The Sun last week that a reunion would be “so lovely”.

“When we all first started it was like an instant family,” she gushed, dipping back into that reservoir of sugary Stacey-ness. “We’re all still constantly in touch with each other. My gosh, we send each other so many messages... and we have got to find out what Smithy says to Nessa.”  

This kind of thing comes up any time a Gavin & Stacey alumnus is interviewed – doubly so since that gigantic Christmas special, which became the most-watched scripted programme of the 2010s. It doesn’t usually mean a reunion is actually going to happen. But things are changing in the Gav-verse. James Corden is heading back to the UK after eight years inflicting Carpool Karaoke and The Late Late Show on Los Angeles, Ruth Jones could surely find time between novels and, by all accounts, the gang’s still in a big WhatsApp group.  

But really, this madness must stop. That Christmas special was a seasonally appropriate miracle, and one that it would be pretty much impossible to repeat. (And it was, if we’re being honest, a bit of a beg. Wrap up the three series neatly, then a decade later invite yourself back onto primetime with a cliffhanger ending? It’s bold.) I love Gavin & Stacey, but no.

There’s something deeply, deeply Noughties about Gavin & Stacey, a show about family foibles which emphasised that even tribes from different nations can meld into a loving whole in the end. It’s not just the proliferation of polo shirts that brings us back to that decade, or Smithy whacking a 20-deck of cigs down on a pub table, or even the post-Tim-and-Dawn love story at its heart. It lives in a less complicated Britain that was still really into The Streets and chunky belts and WKD, and knew Laurence Fox as the guy from Lewis.

That’s what makes it the wrong show to bring back. It did everything that it meant to, and did it before sitcoms became, as a rule, more small-p political. Even Ghosts, its spiritual heir as a massively popular family sitcom, makes subtle points about the housing market and gay rights. Gavin & Stacey has never been minded to do that. Remember the furore about the characters singing the homophobic f-word in “Fairytale of New York” in the last special? It’d be that, every week, and it would be exhausting.

And even if we pick up at the moment everyone wanted to see, and Nessa and Smithy get it together at last – which they basically have to, because Gavin & Stacey runs on weddings – it’ll cross a narrative firewall. Nessa and Smithy can’t be together, even though they fancy each other, and it’s this catch-22 that sparks so much of the plot. It would, basically, tie off the only loose end left.

It’s a condition of British TV that something from the recent past is always being pined for. Inbetweeners fans were desperate to see Simon, Neil, Jay and Will in a third film, though where they’d go after Australia is unclear – Jay’s wedding? Neil’s kid’s christening? The moon? And every 18 months or so since its first run finished in 1996, there would be calls for Spitting Image to come back and give politicians of the day what-for.

Some have wanted a fifth run of Blackadder near enough since the fourth ended in 1989, despite its millennium-inspired return, Blackadder Back and Forth, being very obviously rubbish. It will be something else soon: a hot priest spin-off of Fleabag, an epilogue to Car Share, a where-are-they-now catch-up with This Country’s Kerry and Kurtan.

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You can see why bringing back the TV that people already know and love seems like an obvious slam-dunk to commissioners, but so many TV comedies that come back slink straight off shortly afterwards. A good TV comedy isn’t like other telly: it shrivels and goes all lumpy very quickly when it’s put back in the cupboard, and when you get it back out it usually smells slightly off.  

Mathew Horne and Joanna Page filming ‘Gavin & Stacey’ in 2008
— (Shutterstock)

The one good thing about that Inbetweeners celebration-cum-ritual-humiliation led by Jimmy Carr, where the four leads awkwardly watched some clips from a sofa and waited for it to be over – “I didn’t have the personality or the intelligence to cope with it,” James Buckley explained later – was that it put a bullet in the back of the head of the whole thing.

Only Fools and Horses, meanwhile, managed to keep things cushty until the “Time on Our Hands” special in 1996, after which the returns to Peckham got significantly less fun. Everyone wanted more of Del and Rodney, despite the fact that they’d been gifted a perfect ending and finally become the millionaires Del always said they would be. So when that happy ending was ripped away and they lost it all, having to start again, there was no real momentum to it.  

When shows come back, they’re not just up against whatever else is on iPlayer or Netflix, they’re up against their own past selves. The revivals of Spitting Image and Bad Education aren’t very good on their own merits, but if you’re a fan of the first runs you also have to look at the slightly frightening gap between who you were and what you were doing when you first saw them, and yourself now.

When people ask for more Gavin & Stacey, a part of them is asking to return to what they remember being a less complicated, less fractious, less atomised time in their own lives, as much as they’re asking to know what Smithy said to Nessa. But if you really love these characters, let them stay frozen as they are on a Barry backstreet: Nessa on one knee, Smithy reaching for an answer. Then their story will never really end.

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