When I was staying in dollar-unfriendly London last week, my wallet was in enemy territory. But while there were plenty of purchases I simply couldn’t justify (mostly concerning icky convenience food), the £8 I shelled out — $16 essentially — for the first-season DVD of the popular BBC2 sitcom Gavin & Stacey was well-spent. The premise of the British Comedy Award–winning show, already in its second batch of episodes here, is as format-tested as they come: After six months getting to know each other only by phone, nice bloke Gavin from Essex and sweet girl Stacey from Wales finally meet in person and fall in love. They then must navigate not just geographical distance (about four hours’ drive) but their friends and family, whose protectiveness has its benefits and awkward moments. You think ... no, on second thought, you know you’ve seen it before. But what I found in Gavin & Stacey was something raucously funny and refreshingly pure, a modern romantic comedy that enjoys its colliding-universe broad strokes but always treats its characters like average people instead of uncommon joke machines or pawns of misfortune. A beautifully shot series that moves fast even though it feels patient, it’s a mirthful, hopeful view of whirlwind love that doesn’t suffer for grown-up laughs just because it has a happy couple — played by Matthew Horne and Joanna Page — as its aw-shucks center. (“We’re having a loove-ly time,” Stacey beams into her cell phone from her bachelorette party when Gavin calls from his own stag night. “Everybody’s reee-ly shit-faced.”) It helps, of course, when you have expert comic actors like Rob Brydon as Stacey’s cheery guardian uncle Bryn and Alison Steadman as Gavin’s chirpy mother, not to mention the show’s creators/writers Ruth Jones (only-gay-in-the-village Daffyd’s barmaid chum on Little Britain) and James Corden as the lovebirds’ suspicious best mates. With so much half-hour comedy heading toward extremes of humiliation humor or rat-a-tat pacing — all admittedly in the name of finding new audiences — there’s a sense that Gavin & Stacey is marching to its own anti-cynical rhythm, and that rhythm sounds an awful lot like a joyous heartbeat. With NBC showing interest in adapting it — maybe with a Jersey guy and a South Carolina girl — here’s hoping this lovely show has a chance to win over some American eyes and ears first.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes