When good TV goes bad: becoming mainstream killed Gavin & Stacey

It was Gav’n’Stace that propelled James Corden to intergalactic domination but the when the show left BBC Three, so did its tight focus and cult status

Hard to imagine now he’s literally everywhere – hosting talkshows, panel games and awards bashes, looming down from billboards, doing the voiceover for your interior monologue – but a decade ago, we weren’t living in a James Corden-ruled dystopian state. The Bucks bantersaurus was pretty much unknown back then. Sure, he’d acted in Fat Friends and The History Boys to some acclaim, but he showed no sign of becoming the cultural equivalent of chlamydia, Brexit or ads for Graze boxes.

It was Gav’n’Stace that propelled Corden to intergalactic domination. Even though he was neither Gav nor Stace. Co-created with Ruth Jones, the Anglo-Welsh sitcom’s secret was that it was never really about the titular twosome. Sure, they gave the story its Billericay-meets-Barry premise but they were also smugly dull in that way loved-up couples can be. They were ITV material, not Bafta-winning BBC gold standard.

Instead, it was scene-stealers such as sarky goth Nessa (Jones), ultra-lad Smithy (Corden) and tragicomic Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) who turned the series into a 00s phenomenon. And any show that can casually reel off Alison Steadman, Sheridan Smith and Julia Davis among its supporting cast has got to be something special.

Tears of a crown... Corden as Smithy.
Tears of a crown... Corden as Smithy. Photograph: Baby cow

And for a couple of series back there, Gavin & Stacey was very special. As well as its stellar cast and cute set-up, it was gorgeously written: well-observed and instantly charming. It blended the beige romance of Tim and Dawn from The Office with The Royle Family’s domestic warmth and the romcom twists of a Richard Curtis flick.

It teemed with loving details. The serial killer surnames (Shipman, West and Sutcliffe). How Nessa hinted at a dark past of sexual acrobatics with celebrities. The bantz of the Essex boys, with their catchphrases, curries and greeting of “Gav-lar!” “Smithster!” before breaking into a robo-dance. The nicknames of their posse: Dirtbox, Deano, Fingers, Jesus, Swede and, of course, Chinese Alan (“Someone order a Chinese?”).

Over two series, Gavin & Stacey rose from word-of-mouth BBC Three hit to primetime BBC One. Ratings grew from a humble 543k to a hefty 10.25m. Sadly, it was during the third and final run that G&S J’ed the S.

The debut series barrelled along with the momentum of a burgeoning romance, from first date to wedding. The second saw Stacey move to Essex, marital strife and Nessa having Smithy’s baby. The third repeated itself: Gav moved to Wales this time, there was another wedding (Nessa to Dave Coaches), another pregnancy (Stacey’s). It was still very good, just not great any more. Wider success meant the show lost its tight focus. There were charity singles, Smithy’s Sport Relief sketches, crowbarred-in cameos from Noel Hear’Say and John Prescott. It worked better as cult gem than mainstream juggernaut.

Jones and Corden have wisely resisted all temptation to revive it. While his three co-stars – Jones, Joanna Page and Mat Horne – settled into low-key careers, Corden went on to transatlantic ubiquity. Not being funny but: what’s occurring?


Michael Hogan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
When good TV goes bad: the moment Don’t Tell The Bride got over its Honeymoon phase
When the show left BBC Three, the car crash weddings - once enjoyably uncomfortable - turned into predicament bondage

James Donaghy

22, Jan, 2018 @1:00 PM

Article image
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

Laura Barnett

10, Dec, 2010 @6:45 AM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: when Broadchurch denied its fans fresh blood
As viewers awaited engrossing storylines, even the compelling Olivia Colman and David Tennant double act couldn’t save series two from walking off a cliff

James Donaghy

09, Apr, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how Frasier Crane destroyed Cheers
How far can you stretch a will-they, won’t-they couple, before they edge towards tedium?

Stephen Kelly

28, May, 2018 @12:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how MOTD went OTT
The sporting staple once presented nothing but the best of the week’s togger. Then watching it became like taking a Science of Football course in the future

Gavin Newsham

28, Aug, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how Popworld's bubble burst
In a new column pinpointing the moments great TV shows jumped the shark, we remember Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver’s irrepressible double act – and the ship that sank without them

Michael Cragg

20, Feb, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how The Fall fell from grace
After a compelling first series, the serial killer thriller began to lose its grip. What followed was a cavalcade of preposterousness

Angie Errigo

17, Apr, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: the day the Queen’s Speech stuttered
For 80 years, through countless technical advances, the Queen’s speech was a cornerstone of Britain’s Christmas. Then Sky News got hold of it

Stuart Heritage

23, Dec, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how 24 became torturous viewing
Kiefer Sutherland’s action show was ahead of its time, tackling terrorism on telly in the aftermath of 9/11. But by series six it had become obsolete

Andy Welch

31, Jul, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
When good TV goes bad: how Red Dwarf’s star faded
With the departure of co-creator Rob Grant after series six, the show lurched into comedy-drama, navel-gazing and, eventually, utter smegging ineptitude

Gabriel Tate

18, Sep, 2017 @12:00 PM