Unapologetically romantic, this British comedy about a whirlwind relationship between two gentle, vulnerable souls shines brightest when the two of them are together, and considerably less so when their eccentric circle of friends and family take over. Still, at its best, the series is so full of sweetness, vulnerability and humanity as to overcome its deficiencies, playing much like a feature film diced into episodic bits. Consider it a rare case where made-for-TV love truly does conquer all.
Gavin (Matthew Horne), from Essex, has spent months chatting over the phone to Stacey (Joanna Page), who lives in Wales, and they’ve finally decided to meet in London. Both are filled with anxiety at the prospect, so they bring along their plus-sized mates Smithy and Nessa (writers James Corden and Ruth Jones), respectively.
Both Gavin and Stacey have clearly endured their share of disappointments (there’s even a bit about her having been engaged several times before), but the encounter comes close to love at first sight, albeit after months of disconnected bonding. Yet the courtship’s rapid advancement toward commitment and the altar leads to inevitable complications — most involving those surrounding them.
Jones and Corden work a little too hard at rendering those secondary characters quirky, whether it’s Gavin’s ditsy mother (Alison Steadman) — who inexplicably feigns being a vegetarian to impress her son’s future in-laws — or Stacey’s daft uncle (Rob Brydon). Although the cast is uniformly strong, the more the zany relatives are involved, the more ordinary it all becomes.
Fortunately, the series never veers terribly far from the central duo, each of whom — to borrow a bit of vernacular — is played in cracking fashion by Horne (from “The Catherine Tate Show”) and Page (“Love Actually”). Nor are the impediments thrown at them overblown, establishing a genial tone throughout the first six installments.
The series benefits, too, from the U.K.’s civilized approach to TV comedy — that is, six- or seven-episode “seasons,” which BBC America will air back to back for a 13-week run. That formula allows Gavin and Stacey’s romance to progress with clear narrative momentum, becoming more a limited series than an open-ended one. (Given how quickly things progress, it’s questionable whether the show’s charms can translate nearly as well to NBC’s planned adaptation of the concept, a la “The Office.”)
Indeed, “Gavin & Stacey” is such a neat little package that after watching the first six, even a seventh episode feels almost unnecessary; spending more time with them doesn’t seem onerous, necessarily, but after their fairy-tale romance, you’d be just as content to assume (or at least hope) that they live happily ever after.