Recently, I watched the complete series of Spaced. Created by Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg (of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead), Spaced was one of those British comedies you hear about but did not make the jump into public consciousness like the original the Office. It had a cult following in America, especially after Shaun of the Dead (both the film and the series Spaced were directed by Edgar Wright).
Like many Brit shows, the superiority over American television often accompanied the raves for Spaced. So, imagine my surprised to find a show that owed much of its formula for success to, well, American television and film. That and geek-dom. In fact, if you listen to the commentaries, when American guests try and praise its superiority, while Wright, Hynes and Pegg all point out that the show was inspired by their love of American television shows and films.
In fact, the core plot to the series is a very standard American sit-com premise. Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Hynes) meet up in a small eatery after both lose their living spaces. A friendship develops as both are struggling to find a place to live. They find an ad for a great deal on a flat/apartment with a single stipulation. It is for professional couples. So they decide to pretend to be a couple.
They succeed in fooling the owner, Marsha (Julia Deakin) and get the apartment. The building is also occupied by tantrum prone Amber, Marsha’s unseen daughter and Serious Artist Brian (Mark Heap). Tim is friends with slightly unstable, military obsessed Mike (Nick Frost) and Daisy hangs out with Twist (Katy Carmichael) who works in fashion (also known as a Laundromat). Plot involving a secret the leads have to keep or risk losing their great deal? Check. A cast of wacky friends and neighbors? Check.
The thing is? These are not hindrances for Spaced. While using the conventions of sit-coms, the show manages to walk a fine line light parody and genuine affection. Part of that is that cast. At first, I thought Marsha was going to bug the daylights out of me. Her manner of speaking (kind of a sad sack non-stop drunken slur) was grating at first, but by the end of the series, I was totally engaged by the character. Mysterious and perpetually depressed artist Brian is a character that could have been so one note, he became boring. And yet, as the series progresses, you discover Brian has a pretty multi-faceted personality. There is Somber Brian, Sad Brian, Seething Rage Brian, Quiet Brian, Angry Brian, Pained Brian, etc. (I kid, Brian is an exceptionally likeable character, and gets more and more sympathetic).
Mike is a character who easily could have fallen into the trap of “Character on show to be mocked”. Yet Mike never is one note (Crazy Military Guy) and his relationship to Tim is sold to the audience very well. You can get why they are friends, and Nick Frost avoids going over the edge, Mike is just over the top to inspire laughs (yet not truly at his expense) but not so far that he is a cartoon.
Twist is the odd duck, only in the sense that you are not sure what Daisy likes about having her around. I had the hardest time warming up to Twist, because honestly? She is rather mean. She constantly puts Daisy down and talks down to everyone else. But as time goes by, it becomes clear that she is pretty clueless to this fact about herself and stays attached to Daisy (and later, Brian).
Of course, the centers of the show are aspiring comic book artist/geek Tim and aspiring journalist Daisy. As the fake couple, they have a natural interaction, making the friendship feel entirely genuine. Instead of trying to make it a clash of personalities (uptight vs carefree, angry vs calm, clean vs messy) that one might be tempted to do to generate stories, the conflicts are prone to coming from the outside (most of the time).
The show owes a lot to Seinfeld, with movie inspired plots, television references (from both sides of the pond), pop culture references and crazy situations. What’s really impressive about the film references is how cinematic everything is. Wright proved himself as a skilled director in multiple genres with a single series…on television.
Spaced is solid almost entirely the way through (the Matrix themed episode is the most painfully dated though). Buy it, rent it…Spaced is worth your time.
Johanna Draper Carlson has a really good review (as opposed to my ramblings) over here.
(Click Here if the video won’t play)