(Series 5, ep. 1) Drinks all round – Tuesday nights are back to Pontyberry! While we may not be able to venture to Le Cafe De Les Alans for those drinks anymore, it looks as if the prodigal newsagent, Jagadeesh, has it covered. He’s swapped the cat food and stamps for beer taps and with it the town now has a new “cast gathering” set not owned by Scott Quinnell: The Frisky Fox. I can’t say I’m sad to see that he is now single again (I was never the biggest fan of his overbearing and snobbish wife Tanisha) but I am glad to see that the lazy and scatty Jasminder has also come back to help him. Despite the returns, it looks like Series 5 will be leaving us with a few cast holes. Based on the casually dropped in reasons (I think Stella has been taking lessons off Corrie) I can only assume that Bethan Witcomb (Zoe) and Yasmine Akram (Parvadi) haven’t signed on for the series. While I will miss the offerings of the latter in particular, I am much more saddened to see that it looks like Steve Spiers will also be missing as he spends the series in his “vampercan”. I will be nervous to see if Stella can fill its Alan shaped hole (it is after all the Big One) but as this is at heart an ensemble show I am willing to see what they do with it even without Stella’s right hand man.
We rejoin the valleys after enough time for Bobby to have grown a mullet but clearly not after enough time for Beyonce to have grown up. She storms back in, just as antagonistic as ever, with Stella bearing the brunt of her partner’s mistakes and stepping up to the plate to bring her step-son into the world. Her patience doesn’t just extend to manipulative homewreckers either; while many (me included) would have buried Michael with his own allotment spade for the way he was talking to Stella about her decisions, the flawed heroine opted for her classic set-you-straight talk instead. It’s these moments when Ruth Jones slips so seamlessly into delivering a down to earth and realistic tirade that I remember the quality this show has among the silliness. I also particularly enjoyed the living room bedlam scene where once again every man and his donkey descended upon poor Stella, drawing out the reliable but frustrated rock-of-the-community that Jones has perfected.
Most of the other main characters were dealing with the fall-out from their arcs last season. Ben was pining for Lily (a lot more than I will be) and had become a bit of a “Nob” (I did love his drunken return to the house – the Karl in him is shining through). Luke was dragging babies along with him to gamblers anonymous (I have completely lost track of the babies on the show but I’m assuming Zoe took Jack with her to her dad’s?) and Bobby was in the depths of job-loss depression. Lucky for him, new arrival Tony Gardner (My Parents Are Aliens, The Thick Of It) has popped up as mysterious undertaker Ivan Schloss and will no doubt be reinstating Bobby to his natural professional habitat. I can’t pretend I’m not excited about more funeral parlour based humour, mainly because Bobby doesn’t make nearly as much of a fun alcoholic deadbeat as Paula did, but also because Stella is at its best when it is injecting its ridiculousness into serious situations.
Another staple Stella-ism was at the heart of this week’s episode as we were treated to another Town Event: the Christening of baby Genevieve Brenda Aprycot (with a y) Morris. On the note of the show’s ability to pepper in the ridiculous, I was thrilled to see the return of Lisa Howells and her father, still commanding the laughs every time. I am invariably impressed at how well this show keeps its running gags, scattering them with just enough sparsity to keep them fresh but consistent enough to keep the quirky tone. Always delivering, Nadine covered most of the comedy fodder this week and while her caricature can border on the repetitive, I have to say I still laugh at every line of her snarky “thinking out loud” narration. Auntie Brenda was on form as well and I particularly enjoyed her exchange with Luke the “ex-con” and the offerings from Cheryl who still wins my best laughs every episode in terms of slapstick minor characters. Other storylines included Little Alan’s love interest re-surfacing, the addition of a love interest for Jag in feisty cleaner Carole (played by Casualty star Suzanne Packer) and finally a heart to heart with Michael and Katie leading to his reconciliation with Stella and some very unfortunate vegetable metaphors. I am not sure if this series will end up being the show’s swan song, but I am happy to be back here at least for a little while longer!