My first reaction when James Corden was first announced as the new host of the Late Late Show was, Huh? Who is this English guy of whom I’ve never heard?*
You’ll have to forgive my ignorance. Just lately I have found that Corden is well-known as one of the co-writers and stars of the program Gavin & Stacey, a sitcom about a young couple who fall in love over the phone (at their respective jobs, in Wales and Essex), and then spend the three seasons of the show trying to navigate their new love affair, marriage, and decisions about where to live (Wales or Essex?).
I’m not going to give you a whole lot of plot points, because you really should watch the show fresh, like I got to. (I’d always heard of it, and meant to get around to it, but it took me a while, and in the meantime, it’s not one of your more hugely known British programs here in the states, so I didn’t have to worry about spoilers.) Basically the show involves a lot of movement back and forth between Barry (Wales), where Stacey works and lives with her mother, and Essex (southeast corner of England), where Gavin works and lives with his parents. James Corden also plays one of the main roles: that of Gavin’s best friend Smithy, while his co-writer, Ruth Jones, also plays a main role, that of Stacey’s friend Nessa Jenkins.
It may be called Gavin & Stacey, but it’s truly an ensemble piece (so much so that Gavin and Stacey often seem only to play the straight man to their family members and friends). In addition to Nessa and Smithy (who have a complicated relationship of their own), a lot of screen time is spent with Stacey’s mother Gwen and her uncle, Bryn, who fills in as a surrogate father figure for her. Likewise, Gavin’s good-natured parents Pam and Mick play major roles.
This is a surprisingly gentle show, with a lot of funny and strange little moments, but it’s definitely not one for the kids. When it gets earthy, it gets EARTHY. Much like Smithy (Corden) can’t get over his first (very) intimate encounter with Nessa (Jones), I’m still working on getting over it. Too much information! But still…a very good show. A very funny show. And a very well-written show with a lot of shining little character moments that still make me smile when I think back on them.
Here’s the trailer for series 2. Not the best trailer I’ve seen, but it should give you a flavor.
Years aired: 2007-2010
Episodes and seasons: 19 episodes over 3 seasons, with 1 Christmas special between seasons 2 and 3.
Christmas episodes? Yes, the one-hour special (see above), 2008.
Primary Stars: Mathew Horne as Gavin Shipman; Joanna Page as Stacey West; James Corden as Neil “Smithy” Smith; Ruth Jones as Nessa Jenkins; Melanie Walters as Gwen West; Rob Brydon as Bryn West; Larry Lamb as Mick Shipman; the incomparable Alison Steadman (she was also Mrs. Bennet in the infamous 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice) as Pam Shipman.
Creator and primary writers: James Corden and Ruth Jones.
Setting: Wales and Essex (Urban).
First aired on: BBC3 for the first two series, then BBC1.
Fun trivia: The lead characters’ names (Shipman and West, as well as supporting character “Pete Sutcliffe”) are based on the names of infamous British killers, which caused quite a row when it was discovered.
Corden and Horne, best friends on the show, actually became quite close mates after their first phone call to discuss Horne starring in the series.
All out of Gavin & Stacey Episodes? Watch these next, luv:
The Detectorists. The Detectorists is another great little ensemble piece exploring the (metal) detectoring hobby of the main characters Andy (Mackenzie Crook) and Lance (Toby Jones). It also has a million weird and enjoyable little moments and frankly, it just makes me happy. It is very similar to Gavin & Stacey that way. And: it is also written by its star, Mackenzie Crook. It also sports perhaps one of the most perfect and beautiful theme songs ever.
Spy. When Tim Elliot (Darren Boyd) goes to apply for a new government job, the last thing he expects to do is walk out as a MI-5 superspy. But he does. And yet he still has to keep an eye on his precocious son, try to get along with his ex and her new husband (the headmaster at his son’s school), his former boy-man co-worker who refuses to grow up and spends a lot of time getting them both involved in scrapes, and his new co-worker, a very serious and skilled and nice spy on whom he has a massive crush. Bonus points for also starring Robert Lindsay in one of the most off-the-wall roles ever, as Tim’s supervisor.
Let’s be honest. Just watching that Robert Lindsay-heavy trailer makes me happy.
The Wrong Mans. I’ve not seen this one, but it’s another James Corden project, and co-stars one of the main actors from Spy (see above).
Coupling. A classic romantic sitcom from Dr. Who showrunner Steven Moffatt, based loosely on his own divorce, subsequent romance, and circle of friends. This might appeal to those who really enjoy the sauciness of the love relationships in Gavin & Stacey.
*Because, you see, I spend a lot of time watching English guys on TV.