Gavin and Stacey - Series 2
The second series of Gavin and Stacey (BBC3, Sunday) got off to a start that was both 'tidy' and 'cracking', to use Nessa's favourite terms.
I wonder if Nessa will ever smile in series 2. Probably not. Nessa doesn't do smiling. You may recall that even at Stacey's Hen Night when Nessa was ogling the male stripper and pronouncing him 'lush', her expression suggested she was contemplating a dog turd on her shoe.
Smithy, in contrast, has a child-like ability to go from tears to laughter, and vice versa, in seconds ( which provides a great showcase for James Corden's considerable talents).
Gavin and Smithy first met at infants school and Smithy has continued to go through life with the mentality of a four year old. Sat next to Uncle Bryn in the restaurant, just as he was sat next to Gavin at the age of four, he decides to make Bryn his new best mate. They could meet up in Swindon at weekends, he said.
Poor old Swindon, I thought; its name again being used for comic effect. But then I realised it was the mid-way point on the M4 between Essex and Wales. I had an image of Bryn in the Picasso circumnavigating Swindon's Magic Roundabout in ever decreasing circles as his dodgy satvav self-destructed, while Smithy sank his eighth pint in a seedy nightspot and decided that the Brynster had proved as treacherous a best mate as Gavlar.
Gavin and Stacey is often compared to Mike Leigh's work but it also often reminds me of Alan Ayckbourn, not least in the scene in the restaurant where gradually all but two of the characters end up in the ladies toilet.
That scene brought a minor criticism from one of the papers, which pointed out that it had one of the best 'Fancy seeing you here' scenes but should have then left it hanging in the air. This was the discovery of Dawn and Pete having a meal with a mysterious black man called Seth. The explanation, when it came, was pretty much what most have us had already worked out and was therefore unneccesary.
But the minor characters of Dawn and Pete are, like everyone else, grounded in truth. My parents once had neighbours who alternated between extreme luvvy-doveyness and domestic violence.
Episode 2 had a great set-piece where Gavin and Stacey are noisily rocking the bed above the heads of the rest of the family sat round the breakfast table. It wasn't an original joke but you'll never see it done better.
It began with a distant rumbling but gradually grew louder, as though the Flying Scotsman were bearing down on Billericay. Cue a masterclass in embarrassment from this terrific ensemble of actors.
Eventually, Gavin's mother turns the radio on to mask the noise and Take That boom out with the refrain 'come.....come.....come.'
That was a reminder that Gavin and Stacey is often a little edgier than we think. [Andrew Billen wrote in the Times: "this comedy is less mild than it looks and even funnier than I remembered"].
If we think of it as just an ingenuous rom-com, it's because any sexual innuendo is not pushed into the foreground but left for the viewer to pick up on or not.
Sunday's opener got 1.7 million viewers on BBC3, a massive audience for that channel. But it must be a dilemma for the BBC. They use BBC3 to try out new comedies but when one strikes gold as spectacularly as this it must be frustrating to keep the first-runs on the non-terrestrial channel when they could achieve huge audiences on BBC2 or BBC1.
It's rumoured that Gavin and Stacey won't have a long life. After this second series it may be wound up with a Christmas Special and the writers are already working on other projects for the BBC.
It will be a wrench when it ends because fans feel such affection for every single character. But at least it's one of those comedies that can sustain repeated viewings. Indeed, I was relieved to discover from fan sites that some people have watched it far more times than myself, with some even holding Gavin and Stacey party nights. It's said that people used to have Abigail's Party evenings and serve pilchard curry. No doubt a Gavin and Stacey night would feature omelettes and maybe some of Pam's vegetarian sausages.
Gavin and Stacey has been nominated for Programme of the Year at the BAFTAs and James Corden is nominated for Best Comedy Performance.
Guardian leading article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/mar/15/bbc