Thursday, June 04, 2009

Remembering Spaced

I've been trying to write a few different remembering posts for a while now, but it suddenly occurred to me that there was a particular subject that was staring me in the face all along. It is also one of the reasons I want to write a television pilot.

I am of course, talking about the Simon Pegg/Jessica Stevenson penned and Edgar Wright directed series Spaced.

Now I've mentioned the series on countless occasions over the years, but I have never really delved into it, or what made it so great. I am not going to really give any spoilers about the show, aside from a little bit about the first episode and a passing reference to the theme of another, so if you haven't seen it, this is going to be very general.

The premise was one which had the makings of something ordinary but in terms of execution, it was anything but.

Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg), an aspiring comic book artist who has just broken up with his girlfriend meets Daisy Steiner (Jessica Stevenson), a kooky aspiring writer, at a diner one afternoon, and it turns out that they are both in need of a place to live, and over the course of a couple of weeks, they become friends. When they read an ad for a perfect apartment, but it is for a professional couple only. So they decide to fake it and pretend to be a couple so they can rent it.

Yes, it sounds like a very standard starting place for a generic sitcom, but the execution and talent involved made it wondrous.

For starters, the cast was very good, from Pegg and Stevenson and the introduction of Nick Frost, who at the time the show was being filmed was not even an actor, to Julia Deakin as their drunken landlady Marsha Klein and Mark Heap as the eccentric artist downstairs Brian, and the interplay of these characters (along with Katy Carmichael as Daisy's best friend Twist). And the occasional supporting player like Bill Bailey, Peter Serafinowicz and comedian Michael Smiley were also wonderfully cast.

With all those principals to work with, it means that Spaced is geeky, yet accessible, if that makes any sense. What I mean is it is full of wonderful pop cultural references, but even if you don't get the reference, the humor still largely works based on the characters, which is a real strength. The dialogue is gold, and largely quotable, the subject matter is largely realistic, yet characterized in such a way that it is simply fascinating, and there is a timeless quality to everything as it didn't try to be overtly topical (though one might argue that the rave-related episode really dates the series somewhat).

And unlike the depiction of geeks on most shows, Tim and Daisy are fully functional human beings. Yes, they are a little neurotic, but they aren't the geeks that are normally depicted on television and the movies. You know, like the geekdom of Comic Book Guy, The Big Bang Theory and such, who represent a minority of our entire subculture. They are for the most part realistic geeks... geeks like you and myself. There was dimension to their mutual obsessions, but it wasn't completely out of hand.

I also have to mention the fact that unlike a lot of sitcoms, each series was directed very much like a movie, meaning not only is the camera work unique and at times evocative of other movies, but each series feels organically tied together because it was literally one creation, which likely helped Edgar Wright become the film director he is now. It has a sort of cohesion that few other series achieve. There isn't some weird change in direction in any of the characters from the first episode to the last because of focus grouping or casting... everything just gels from the beginning. Each one feels complete, and paced perfectly.

On the record, I am also glad Bill Murray headbutted McG. I am sure there are a lot of Spaced fans who feel the same way too, because I doubt that anyone involved with the Americanization of the show would have the same love or passion for the subject matter, and without the cooperation or even the blessing of Pegg/Stevenson/Wright, well, it wouldn't have even approached the threshold for being good. It was a labor of love, and frankly that is not what the American version would have ever been.


Jimmy J. Aquino said...

Right on about the cinematic style of the show.

I had seen only a couple of Spaced episodes on the now-defunct Trio cable channel a few years ago, but they were so badly butchered by Trio that I lost interest. But when I recently saw the rest of the episodes via the Warner Home Video DVDs, where us Americans could finally watch them uncut and not as a bootleg, it ended up being one of my all-time favorite sitcoms. I also realized this show must have influenced current single-camera sitcoms like Scrubs (the fantasy sequences) and 30 Rock (the geeky writer heroine).

Spaced also knew how to avoid overusing characters who could have ended up dominating the screen time and wearing out their welcome on other sitcoms, like a certain character whose name rhymes with Ponzi. The funniest Spaced character IMO, Tyres (who took so much E that it apparently gave him the ability to travel through time), only appeared twice during the show's run.

Lee said...

Dan from All that comes with it, has been on at me for what seems like years now to watch Spaced and up until now I've only had short glances into its world. I really should make the time to check the series out.

I did see a scene, I think in the pilot episode, where he expresses his ability to be sad via the scene in Terminator 2 when the T800 'dies'. Which I thought was quite neat.

MC said...

Jimmy: There is a particular Nick/Simon hugging scene on Spaced that is so Scrubs.

Lee: I think you will see a lot of yourself in Tim Bisley.

Mel said...

Hey, where are you?