U.K. sitcom little-watched, much loved
Not since the critics drooled over “Little Britain” or “The Office” has a British TV comedy been as hot in the U.K. as “Gavin and Stacey,” a double winner at the British Academy of Film and Television’s TV awards on April 20.This bizarrely affecting comedy about a whirlwind romance, the two families caught up in its wake and the dark undertones that consistently threaten to erode the feel-good vibe, has been notching up prizes. At last fall’s British Comedy Awards “Gavin and Stacey” amassed a surfeit of silverware on the back of a single, six-part debut season. Earlier this month Blighty’s TV critics and media scribes voted the show best comedy at the Broadcasting Press Guild kudos event. On April 20, the laffer nabbed the BAFTA viewers’ vote, beating period drama “Cranford” and “Strictly Come Dancing,” the template for “Dancing With the Stars.” The sitcom’s co-creator James Corden, who also plays one of the show’s leads, clinched best comedy performance. What’s more amazing is that all this critical love is being lavished on show that’s not on one of the mainstream channels and does not attract huge auds. When the second series ended its run April 20 a mere 1.3 million viewers tuned in, well below the 5.9 million who recently watched the first episode of season eight of BBC1 sitcom, “My Family,” But this is a good audience for the niche web that airs the show — digital upstart BBC3, the same station that launched “Little Britain.” BBC3 is one of the few parts of U.K. TV still immune to the disease of rampant ratings chasing — it’s also an important cog in the pubcaster’s strategy because it appeals to 16-24 year olds. In the U.S. NBC, which successfully adapted “The Office” for American audiences, is making a pilot based on the U.K. show, executive produced by Corden and co-writer Ruth Jones, who also appears in “Gavin and Stacey.” The bad news for British fans is that, in common with many great locally made TV sitcoms including “Fawlty Towers” and “The Office,” “Gavin and Stacey” will not go on and on. “We never intended to have a second series let alone a third,” Jones recently told reporters. “We don’t want it to become predictable. We’ll see how the Christmas special goes and take it from there.” With the show being so feted, the pressure to do a third series may prove irresistible. Season two will be released on DVD release in the U.K. in November, which almost certainly means the BBC is planning to repeat the program on one of its mainstream networks over the summer. Let’s hope so. Comedy this good is a rare treat — although quite how a show this full of quirks will translate to a U.S. network is anybody’s guess. This being a Britcom, jokes about sex, fat people, lack of aspiration and failing relationships add to the fun in a comedy that is anything but cozy yet lacks the cringe-making humiliation of “The Office” or its successor, “Extras.” The temptation will be to overdo the romance and iron out the kinks, but that would be a betrayal of why this expertly acted and cleverly scripted sitcom is the toast of this year’s kudos season.