Spaced: Series 1

Spaced 1Synopsis: The complete first series of the groundbreaking Channel 4 sitcom. Spaced is the story of enthusiastic but directionless Daisy Steiner (Jessica Stephenson) and wired urban surfer Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg), two twenty-somethings who lie about being a ‘professional married couple’ in order to get tenancy of a North London flat. As the story progresses, the potent mix of Tim and Daisy’s friends, interests and ambitions lead them into a bizarre world perched precariously on the edge of normality.

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Spaced: Series 1 8.0

eyelights: its amusing leads. its pop culture savvy. its inspired direction.
eyesores: the esoteric quality of its references.

‘Spaced’ is a cult British television sitcom from 1999 and 2001. It revolves around Tim and Daisy, a couple of slackers who have moved in together out of necessity. Its focus is on their growing dynamic, their friends and neighbours and its many pop culture references. It’s the show that brought Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and writer-director Edgar Wright to prominence.

I had known of this show’s existence for many years, but, for some reason, I was under the impression that it was a science fiction comedy – not a sitcom. No doubt its title played a part in the confusion, but so did my understanding that it nodded to Star Wars and other sci-fi properties. For some reason, I think that I put it in a similar class as ‘Red Dwarf’.

My mistake.

While ‘Spaced’ is neither sci-fi, nor related to ‘Red Dwarf’, it is nonetheless extremely geeky. But in a good way. In fact, it’s funny on multiple levels, so that non-geeks can enjoy it on a surface level, while geeks can pick out the many references that are spread throughout the series. And, if they don’t, the DVD has a Homage-O-Meter feature to help them out.

Not much goes on, plot-wise, of course: it is, after all, a sitcom. And a short one at that: ‘Spaced’ lasted a mere 14 episodes – 7 per series (this is not atypical in the UK). The predominant consideration, as is often the case with sitcoms, is its cast of quirky, but endearing characters, all of whom revolve around Tim and Daisy in some fashion or another.

  • Tim is a wannabe comic book artist who works in a comic book shop, plays video games, and is a big Star Wars fan. Recently ditched by his girlfriend, he’s still sore and feeling dejected. His best friend is Mike; they go a long way back. As played by Simon Pegg, he comes off as a morally-ambiguous slacker with no real sense of direction.
  • Daisy is a severely unfocused aspiring writer; anything distracts her away from her work, so living with Tim is no great help. She is also quite insecure: it doesn’t take much to shake what little confidence she has. She can easily be picked on by those around her. Jessica Stevenson incarnates her to perfection, down to the body language.
  • Mike is Tim’s best friend. Obsessed with the military, he’s always wearing fatigues, carrying weapons, and affects a serious, by-the-book demeanour. But, in reality, he’s a stupid oaf who falls asleep in weird places, gets wasted with Tim, and doesn’t seem to be doing anything with himself. Nick Frost is obviously the perfect choice for the part.
  • Twist is Daisy’s best friend. A fashion-conscious, superficial, pretty thing, she can be cruel to Daisy and is generally selfish. She has a desire to be seen as sophisticated, which makes her an ill-fit with this motley crew of slackers and artsy types. Katy Carmichael gives Twist the delicate nature required and also throws in a little naiveté. Nice.
  • Brian is one of the tenants in the building that Tim and Daisy live. He’s an introverted, brooding artist who paints and creates all sorts of art projects sourced from his rawest emotions. He pops by from time to time, but is always very awkward and mysterious. Mark Heap does a terrific job of infusing Brian’s gaze with nervousness and uncertainty.
  • Marsha is the building’s landlady. She’s a strange creature, talking in a slow, near-slur, and with a mildly thick accent. She looks at people as though she were assessing them, reading their thoughts, but in reality she’s empty: she’s an emotionally needy character with an eye on Brian. Julia Deakin makes Marsha so awkward it’s hilarious; she fully inhabits the part.

Bizarrely, as I think about the show, there are no true standout episodes for me. And yet I liked each one of them. Having said this, I find them inconsistent in some ways: many of them have amazing moments, but then are hobbled by aspects that I find less interesting or appealing. On the whole, though, they are quite good; the writing and performances are sharp.

Episode 1: Tim and Daisy meet in a coffee shop, befriend each other, look for an apartment together and become flatmates. The way they coached each other on their whole lives so that they could pass the interview was amusing. They get the flat, of course, but will now have to pretend to be a couple to keep it. There are lots of pop culture references right from the start – it’s part of the show’s formula. It plays very smoothly, with nice direction. I was surprised to see Nick Frost was once less bulky. 8.0

Episode 2: Tim and Daisy try to agree on the house rules for their new arrangement. Incapable of focusing on her work, Daisy coaxes Tim into having a spontaneous house-warming party that very night. The evening is kind of awkward, what with the mismatched guests and the lameness of the party. There was this nice rant by Tim to Mike about the “Timewarp”. Nice. Heck, even the soundtrack has terrific references. Edgar Wright is already showing signs of directorial genius in the way he puts things together. 8.0

Episode 3: This episode starts with Tim playing a zombie video game and focuses around the influence it has on him. Meanwhile, Daisy gets an interview for a woman’s magazine, which she attempts to prepare for. Brian gets invited to an art show by his previous partner, Ian/Vulva, and, despite his pale protests, Tim and Daisy join him. Evidently this doesn’t go well. The art show itself is so ridiculously pretentious that it’s impossible not to chuckle. They must have had fun trying to create that piece. 8.0

Episode 4: Daisy gets dumped by her boyfriend over the phone; they’ve had a long-distance relationship for which she’s been ambivalent, but she decides that she needs to replace him by getting a dog. Unfortunately, Tim has a long-standing phobia of canines. He nonetheless allows her to buy one. While she’s out with Twist, he and Mike go play paintball. There, Tim crosses paths with an old friend of his – and his ex’s new boyfriend. This episode is nice because it delves into the characters a bit more. 8.0

Episode 5: Daisy is getting over her break-up. There’s a great scene in Tim’s comic book shop when she compares being in a relationship to having a sandwich toaster – surrounded by tons of Star Trek stuff. I loved that Daisy wears a dog collar over her usual lace choker now. Nice touch. Much of the episode revolves around her new dog, Colin. It’s great fun at first, but the finale’s dog rescue was so-so. There’s a fun ‘The Shining’ reference and some great Star Wars references. Also awesome: it has Fluke on the soundtrack. Squee. 8.0

Episode 6: Tyres, Tim’s bicycle courier buddy comes by to pick-up his drawings and invites him to a club that night. It’s mostly time-killing before going out but it’s all fun. The clubbing scene itself was brilliant, even if it consisted of watching them partying; it was all style and flash – very nice. Even the credits were fun, with everyone listed under their “raver” names. This is evidently Edgar Wright’s episode, without whom none of this would have worked. He would amount to great(er) things someday. 8.0

Episode 7: Tim’s ex tells him that she broke up with her new boyfriend and wants Tim back. He considers it, even gets slightly excited at the thought. Naturally, Daisy is upset that Tim is thinking of leaving. We finally get more information about Tim and Mike’s backstory, from when they were kids. Mike gets interviewed for the Territorial Army, and Brian and Twist go on a date. This episode is rife with pop culture references: Star Wars, The X-files, Mortal Kombat, Murder She Wrote, …etc. It’s a perfect finale. 8.25

While the show is superbly written and performed, a lot of the credit must go to Edgar Wright, who directed each episode. He gave the show a look that is nothing like one’s standard sitcom, giving it  a low-budget but somewhat filmic vibe. The way he cuts them and spruces them up is nothing short of genius – especially at the time it was made. It’s no wonder that he has become a hot property since.

‘Spaced’ is a show that I’m sure will grow on me the more I watch it – it’s that kind of a show. It will no doubt help when I watch it with the Homage-O-Meter on, so that I can savour all of the subtleties I have been missing. I can see why this has become a cult favourite; it arrived at just the right time, just as geek culture was beginning to take hold, and it hits all the right marks in that respect.

This is a must-see for any self-respecting pop culture aficionado.

Dates of viewing: March 23-28, 2014

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