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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Spaced: The Complete Series (review)

I’ve Got a Bad Good Feeling About This

I always knew that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright and I were soulmates. I suspected it had to be true after Shaun of the Dead, my first exposure to their bone-deep geekiness and how much fun they have with it. Our love was cemented with Hot Fuzz, wherein they demonstrated that true geekery is not just about passion for comic books and science fiction but for movies in general… or at least for cheesy movies.
But no, no: As Spaced illustrates, they know that geekiness, as Generation X defines it and indeed even invented it, on a large scale, is about movies, full stop: good ones, bad ones, the ones in the middle. It’s about how movies shape our lives and become part of our generational conversation. If that sounds silly, then Spaced is not for you. You’re probably too old… or too young.

Long predating Shaun and Fuzz, Spaced is the 1999-2001 sitcom Pegg and Wright created — along with Jessica Stevenson, who appeared in Doctor Who: “Human Nature”/“The Family of Blood” as the “human” Doctor’s ladylove, and whom I now know is another soulmate — for Britain’s Channel 4. I hesitate to use the term sitcom, because this is nothing like what American TV means by the word. It is cinematic, for one: director Wright, shooting with one camera, frequently in real locations (not on a stagey set), was honing the stylized eye he has developed to lend deep and often hilariously inappropriate significance to the most insignificant things. Wright’s is a kind of visual geekery that has absorbed the lessons of action movies and film noir and other cinematic cheese and redeploys it to create new meaning and entire levels of emotion where you’d never expect to find it.

So there’s genuine feeling in the seemingly mundane doings of London flatmates Tim and Daisy (Pegg and Stevenson, who both wrote the show). He’s a struggling comic book artist who earns a meager living at a comic book shop; she fancies herself a writer but hardly ever actually writes; mostly, they spend a lot of time watching TV, playing video games, hanging out at the pub, and navigating the dangerously goofy waters presented to them by their strange friends and neighbors.

There are only 14 episodes here, seven in each of the two series, which aired in 1999 and 2001, but each is a brilliant little gem, faceted with witty and wise observations on how Generation X lives. (There’s surprisingly little cultural differences between American Xers and Brits, at least as evidenced here; mostly, I’m jealous that Daisy doesn’t need a “real” job to subsidize her dream of being a writer; I can only imagine how much I’d accomplish if I had the dole to keep me from worrying about how to pay the rent, and didn’t have to clutter up my head with money work.) Some won’t find it wise, those who don’t understand, say, how vital a part Star Wars plays in the cultural sea Xers swim in: when I say that Tim and Daisy and their pals talk to one another in lines of dialogue from the original Star Wars trilogy, I don’t mean they sling references at each other: they really communicate. (When a betrayed Tim, during a moment of deep pain, hurls “You Lando!” at someone, well, it truly stings.) The first series had already been shot when The Phantom Menace arrived in 1999, but the 2001 series is laden with the lingering hangover of that treachery on Lucas’s part. (It’s not Lucas at whom Tim flings the “Lando,” but it might as well be, the way the show treats Lucas’s new take on Star Wars.)

Spaced, on the whole, doesn’t merely throw out lines from movies we Xers love in an attempt to “speak to” us or just to “be cool,” it communicates with us in the language of pop culture we have our own unique understanding of. It’s not just about jokey references, it’s about shaping its stories around how movies shape our approach to the world, if only in our own heads. Cops become the Matrix’s agents and social leeches become zombies; a love of London can only be expressed Woody Allen style; blasphemy is taking the name of Buffy in vain. Pegg and Stevenson and Wright don’t just get us — they are us.

I’ve been watching the Region 2 DVD set of Spaced, because, hey, that’s the kind of dork I am: I buy DVDs from overseas, and I think I’m cool because of that. Pathetic, right? Believe me, I know. But now Spaced is out in Region 1, and you guys get a bonus for waiting. Just as with the Region 2 set, this collection features abundant — and abundantly geeky — bonus material: outtakes, trailers, commentaries, deleted scenes, raw footage, the “Homage-O-Meter,” and more. But the new Region 1 edition also features commentaries by American fans of the show, including Kevin Smith, Patton Oswalt, Quentin Taratinto, Matt Stone, Diablo Cody, and Bill Hader.

Enjoy. I’ve been watching these 14 episodes and over and over, and I always find something new, and even when I don’t, I am endlessly entertained by them. You will be too.

Bonus for Brit-TV geeks! John Simm — aka Sam “Life on Mars” Tyler and Harry “The Master” Saxon appears in one episode. He’s only here briefly, but he’s adorable:

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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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tv on dvd

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