Monday, December 17, 2007

Spaced (1999-2001)

Spaced (1999-2001)

I caught a few episodes of 'Spaced' during its initial run on Channel 4 in the UK many years ago and was quite taken by it but never got around to revisiting it and watching all of the episodes from the start. Until now. 'Spaced' is a geeky sitcom that came out in 1999 that was created by Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, and Jessica Stevenson and also starred Nick Frost. Pegg, Wright, and Frost have gone on to make Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both movies that I loved and that have brought the group much acclaim. So how does their initial creative collaboration hold up? In short, it's great!

The two seasons of seven episodes each focus on the lives of Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) and Daisy Steiner (Jessica Stevenson), both twentysomething layabouts - Tim is a budding comic book artist who works in a comic book store and Daisy is an unemployed writer - who meet randomly and pose as a couple in order to rent an apartment that was advertised as being for professional couples only. The apartment has its share of crazy characters; the landlady, Marsha (Julia Deakin) is a chain smoking alcoholic, and the other tenant, Brian (Mark Heap) is a deranged introverted artist. Also in the mix is Tim's gun loving best friend Mike (Nick Frost) and Daisy's ditsy best friend Twist (Katy Carmichael). Together this group of misfits have many bizarre and surreal adventures that usually revolve around various aspects of Tim and Daisy's lives, including their work, love lives, and leisure activities.

That synopsis makes 'Spaced' sound kind of like 'Friends', but it isn't anything like that show. For starters, even though the characters are quite atypical they have a more down to earth, common man vibe which is also reflected in the show's locations and production design. The storylines here are, broadly, quite normal and cover the usual stuff like job hunting, romance, partying, and the usual fooling around between friends. It's the writing and execution that make this show something quite different however. It's very stylized and unlike any sitcom I've ever seen, with lots of unconventional camera-work and quick cut editing that hurls visuals at the viewer without restraint. And it's fantastic! The visual style and scripts also reference loads of things from pop-culture, also at a break neck pace.

The amazing thing is that these stylistic choices never overwhelm the story or the characters, and the way they're integrated feels so organic and so right even when scenes cross over into the surreal. The broad story arcs are also excellent and come together nicely in terms of plotting and characterization. The characters are well rounded and full of personality, and most of them develop and change over the course of the 14 episodes. Oh, and did I mention that the thing is damned funny in terms of visual and written comedy? Well, it is... And then there's the music - there's an eclectic array of music varying from songs to movie and TV themes to video game music, and all of it works with the style of the show and perfectly complements individual scenes.

Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson as the central duo come across, strangely enough, as the 'normal' characters when placed next to their oddball supporting characters. They have to give the most rounded performances that incorporate comedy as well as the more serious dramatic stuff, and the two pull it off. As much as I like the two protagonists it's hard not to love the supporting characters more, because they're detached from reality in the most endearing ways possible. It's hard to pick a favourite from the bunch of them, they're all brought to life so memorably, but I'd have to pick Brian for his angry, socially inept and introverted ways. I'll confess, if they made a game of 'which Spaced character are you', I'd be Brian.

There's a story floating around that 'Spaced' is going to be remade for the US; surely a pointless exercise when the original is so good and hasn't aged a bit (with the exception of a handful of references). It's something special and unique, and deserves to be seen in its original and best incarnation. In case you haven't figured it out yet, the show is terrific and a must-see!

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