STUDIO: BBC Warner
RUNNING TIME: 350 minutes
• Multiple Commentary Tracks
• Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
• Q&A Session
• Feature Length Documentary
It’s a more upbeat version of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land had it been written in 1999 as a tribute to nerds. That’s a meta-reference to the many references in Spaced.
The original concept for Magnum P.I. featured Tom Selleck in the role of a
suave serial rapist.
Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Julia Deakin, Katy Carmichael
Using overturned Hollywood clichés, pervasive pop culture references, rapid-fire editing, and a cast of lovable characters, Spaced thrusts new friends Daisy Steiner (Hynes) and Tim Bisley (Pegg) into a seedy world of lies and subterfuge when they decide to trick landlady Marsha (Deakin) into renting them a flat. Since the flat is only available to ‘professional couples,’ Daisy and Tim put on a well rehearsed act for everyone in the building, including Brian (Heap), a struggling artist who deals in anger, pain, fear, and aggression. Along for the ride are Tim’s gun obsessed best friend Mike (Frost), and Daisy’s best friend Twist (Carmichael). Spaced: The Complete Series contains all 14 episodes of the show.
Exxon Mobil’s new guerrilla campaign to curb the growing number of
cyclists was pretty rotten.
If you’ve been reading CHUD for any stretch of time over the past few years, you’ve definitely read an article or ten about Spaced. You probably recall words like “fantastic”, “hilarious,” “sublime”, and probably one or two farty art words like “nonpareil.” It turns out that the CHUD choir was pretty much right: Edgar Wright’s Spaced is a true gem. Had it arrived on our shores sooner, it would have been an even bigger phenomenon, but as it stands, it’s a testament to the comic muscle of Wright, Pegg, Frost, and Hynes.
Spaced features nods and winks to pop culture staples like The Shining, Back to the Future, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Pulp Fiction, Robocop, The Magnificent Seven, The Omen, Say Anything, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, as well as pointing to lesser-known items like Silent Running, Akira, Desperado, or even obscure episodes of The X-Files. These plentiful homages and little nerd calling cards are interwoven into a surreal yet believable narrative; in this way, Spaced plays out like a live action Simpsons. Pre-season 10 Simpsons, of course.
But a comedy show can’t succeed on clever references alone. Luckily for Spaced, the cast breathes life into the characters in a way that elevates it from homage-fest to comic blessing. Pegg’s Tim feels like a more dynamic version of Shaun of the Dead‘s Shaun, and his interplay with Nick Frost’s Mike is even more fun here than it is on the big screen. Enough good can’t be said about Hynes’ Daisy – she’s far from a typical female foil. Too often, the female lead in the “slacker comedy” genre plays the straight man role, with nothing better to do than groan and roll her eyes at her beau/husband/brother’s hilarious antics. Oh, those men! Here, though, Daisy Steiner is just as funny and flawed as any of the characters in Spaced, and does a nice job subverting the tired and offensive cliché of the humorless female lead. Marsha’s creepy but loveable alcoholic landlady throws a wrench into the group dynamic, and the Brian/Twist couple round out the team with contrasting personalities.
Many of the episodes are structured around a typical Hollywood blockbuster trope. There’s a chase episode that finds Tim crawling through ventilation shafts, a rescue operation episode complete with a flipboard-assisted planning scene, as well as a mistaken identity espionage episode. Spaced revels in both subverting and embracing the clichés in these episodes. It’s funny and smart, and isn’t afraid to make you hunt for the joke.
While the stories might sound a little outlandish, Spaced works them into a very familiar domestic drama centered around Tim and Daisy. Tim, a fledgling graphic artist, struggles to get his comic published, while Daisy works as a freelance writer who can’t seem to overcome writer’s block. They argue over housecleaning. They adopt a pet. They host a party. They deal with pain-in-the-ass friends, and are pains-in-the-ass themselves. Brian awkwardly rejects advances from Marsha as he congregates in the kitchen with Tim and Daisy. Juxtaposing humdrum stuff against the wild and absurd is one of Spaced‘s best strengths.
If there is a problem, it’s mostly about timing. Some of the references are really stale today, especially the persistent quoting of The Matrix and Star Wars, or the inclusion of a Battlebots parody. In their defense, there’s no way Pegg or Hynes could have known what disasters those franchises would have become, but it’s still a little cringe inducing to watch a parodied-to-death Matrix fight or an overly reverent Star Wars conversation. Also, a few running jokes end up getting run into the ground. The Brian character gets a lengthy ‘brooding artist’ intro that feels like padding after the first episode, and Tim’s hyperactive friend Tyres bugged me a little.
CHUD Parenting PROTIP: Boiling your child’s favorite teddy is an effective and funny punishment tactic.
But these flaws aren’t dealbreakers at all. If you’re a fan of either Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, it’s an easy bet that you’ll fall in love with Spaced. It embraces nerd culture from the inside in a way that’s fun and unique, and it comes from talents that we’re sure to be seeing much more of in the coming years. It’s Friends for smart people.
The Spaced package is wonderfully robust, with multiple outtakes and deleted scenes for each of the 14 episodes. There’s also a great feature-length documentary featuring all of the original cast, as well as an hour long Q&A session. Better yet, there are funny and insightful commentary tracks from people like Quentin Tarantino (!), Patton Oswalt, Matt Stone, Bill Hader, Kevin Smith, and Diablo Cody (huh?). The Tarantino tracks are invaluable – listen for a thoughtful critique of Revenge of the Sith. Also included are the original commentary tracks with the cast and crew.
The video transfer is acceptable for a low budget production, and the audio is an understandably vanilla Dolby 2/0.