Fifteen years ago, Gavin & Stacey premiered on BBC Three, becoming a massive hit in Britain over the course of its three-series run. The show, which originally ran from 2007 to 2010, is a romantic comedy about an Essex boy and a Welsh girl whose long-distance relationship quickly turns into an engagement and then a marriage — blending their eccentric families in a culture clash equal parts charming and hilarious. As a testament to just how beloved this series still is, when the cast reunited for a 2019 Christmas special, it garnered 18.49 million viewers — half of all the people watching television in the U.K. at the time.
Despite that incredible success in Britain, Gavin & Stacey has never found a strong American audience. That’s ironic considering that one of its creators and stars, James Corden, has found fame in the States completely separate from the show that made him a star back home. But that cultural gap in the series’ success isn’t for lack of trying. There were three failed attempts to adapt the show in America: first in 2008 by NBC, then in 2009 by ABC, and lastly a 2013 Fox attempt that made it the furthest. Titled Us & Them, the Fox remake starred Jason Ritter and Alexis Bledel and shot seven episodes, none of which made it to air.
Remaking international shows for American audiences has always been a tricky business, but with Gavin & Stacey, it feels particularly like a fool’s errand — and, to quote Uncle Bryn, “I’ll tell you for why.” In theory, the show’s quaint simplicity and unique format should make it easy to adapt; as creator and star Ruth Jones told Jonathan Ross, “It should translate really well ’cause it’s a love story.” But that simplicity may actually be why it’s proved impossible to remake. Because the show doesn’t employ complex plots, it gives the characters and their cultural quirks center stage. And these characters, who are the beating heart of the show, would simply be impossible to duplicate.
Every episode of the series was written by Corden and Jones, both of whom star as Smithy and Nessa, the respective best friends and confidants of Gavin (Mathew Horne) and Stacey (Joanna Page). In true rom-com form, they thus offer some of the show’s best comic relief.
With Nessa, Jones created a character so lived-in that the viewer instantly understands exactly who she is but is still surprised by her at every turn. Her thick Welsh accent and colloquialisms heighten her matter-of-fact delivery, often referencing her storied past-life experiences: She was once arrested for smuggling but bailed out thanks to her relationship with John Prescott; she was an original member of the girl group All Saints but didn’t get along with Shaznay; she directed over 200 Bollywood films with Om Puri. Her often abrasive, no-nonsense demeanor particularly shines when juxtaposed with the bubbly Stacey, Stacey’s eager and naïve uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon), and the sweetly maternal Gwen (Melanie Walters), all of whom reside in the beachfront town of Barry, Wales.
About 200 miles east in Billericay, Gavin’s family includes his excitable, Camilla Parker Bowles–loving mother, Pamela (Alison Steadman); sensible father, Mick (Larry Lamb); and Corden’s Smithy, Gavin’s emotional, territorial best friend.
The detailed writing and pitch-perfect performances work together to bring dimension, humor, and depth to every single character, all of whom are fleshed out and entertaining enough to be the star of a series all their own. And though top billing naturally belongs to the titular characters, the show is truly an ensemble that just happens to be guided by Gavin and Stacey’s romance. Their journey acts as a pillar throughout the series, around which the other characters’ mayhem erupts. Rather than over-the-top scenarios, plotlines are more character driven — slice-of-life snapshots like weddings, trivia nights, and karaoke renditions of “Islands in the Stream.” One episode essentially entirely revolves around the characters ordering a curry for takeaway, for example.
The show is also ripe with running bits and catchphrases that feel like inside jokes with the viewer. Bits like Nessa asking, “Oh, what’s occurrin’?,” Gwen making an omelet, and the unspoken mystery surrounding a certain fishing trip all help to create a familiar atmosphere that deepens the viewer’s connection. It’s part of the reason that this world and these characters have resonated so strongly with audiences in just 20 episodes and why 18.49 million people wanted to spend their Christmas with them.
Yes, it is a love story, as Jones described, but one that extends beyond the bounds of its two leads. Instead, the love at the center of Gavin & Stacey encompasses every member of these two families that become one. For as much as it’s about romantic love, it’s just as much about platonic and familial love — because at its core, the series is about a broad, eclectic group that genuinely loves and cares for one another.
Had Gavin & Stacey been released in today’s streaming landscape, it wouldn’t have needed an American adaptation to reach audiences in the States. It would have been discovered and enjoyed just as shows like Derry Girls, Squid Game, and Fleabag have thanks to the borderless nature of streaming. The good news is we can now play catch-up on what we’ve missed. And truth be told, the failure of American networks to remake this brilliant series is a blessing, because it means that we can watch Gavin & Stacey in its original, inimitable form.
Gavin & Stacey is available on HBO Max.