Your next box set: Gavin and Stacey

This comedy drama about a soft-on-the-inside Essex boy and big-hearted Welsh girl takes ordinary British lives and turns them into something extraordinary

It's Christmas Eve 2008. What's occurring? The world is mourning the death of Harold Pinter, the king of Thailand is calling for peace in his country – and 6.8 million people are putting down their mince pies and tuning into the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special.

This hour-long episode marked a high point for the comedy drama about a soft-on-the-inside Essex boy falling for a big-hearted Welsh girl. The first series of Gavin and Stacey (played by Mathew Horne and Joanna Page) aired in 2007, and was pretty much buried on BBC3 – but it proved such a surprise hit, spawning two further series, that it eventually reached the giddy heights of BBC1. The Christmas special is included in the new "complete collection". Watching the whole lot again, you're reminded of why the show became a cult hit: it takes ordinary British lives and turns them into something extraordinary.

Whether it's Stacey's neighbour, the nymphomaniac pensioner Doris, describing her passionate mornings with her young lover, or the brilliant Rob Brydon as Stacey's curiously camp uncle Bryn, singing along to James Blunt on the M4, the show takes characters and situations you might recognise from your own life, and twists them into something exaggerated, absurd and hilarious.

It's almost a year since the final episode was broadcast, on New Year's Day, and yet the show already seems to carry an extra poignancy. The friendship between Gavin and Smithy (played by James Corden, who co-wrote the programme with Ruth Jones) is almost as touching as the relationship between the two lovers. Corden and Horne quickly became hot property. But, like Icarus, they flew too close to the sun: their BBC3 comedy show quickly bombed, and their slasher-flick Lesbian Vampire Killers was panned by critics.

Asked recently whether he would work with Corden again, Horne carefully demurred. "I don't think it's right," he said, "to do [comedy] with James any more."

Laura Barnett

• This article was amended on 10 December. It originally referred to Rob Brydon's character as Gwyn. This has been corrected.

Contributor

Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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