Starring Jessica Stevenson, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Katy Carmichael, Julia Deakin
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg
Spaced is an antidote for bad days. I always assumed it must be some kind of science fiction comedy, based on the title and what I’d seen of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, but actually it’s about mates, in the British sense. It’s about people who are just a mess and trying to climb up through the landslide of their lives, full of geeky references, humor so rapidfire it’s doing pratfalls over itself, and the good feelings that come from watching miserable people become friends and try to figure their stupid lives out. I can relate to that.
Co-writers and creators Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson star as Tim Bisley and Daisy Steiner, two near-strangers who wind up posing as a couple in order to rent a flat after circumstances render them both homeless at the same time. Hijinks ensue, including trying to keep their lies straight when the alcoholic landlady comes down to visit, befriending their strange downstairs neighbor Brian (he’s an artist), trying to get jobs, or keep jobs, while drinking and playing video games and hanging out with their weirdo friends, and slowly embracing the closeness that grows between them. It all sounds a bit standard sitcom-y, I suppose, but it’s mixed in with an oddball sense of whimsy and casual drug use to create something that is entirely other and turns all the usual tropes on end.
The dialogue is quick and sharp, sort of like if Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn were British twenty-somethings who smoked pot and talked about Star Wars and swore a lote. Geeky pop culture references are a part of the humor, which you could probably have guessed if you’ve seen Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz, but don’t let that scare you away. Unlike, say, Seth McFarlane humor, in which the reference is, in fact, the entire joke, the references in Spaced complement the humor rather than enabling it. It’s probably funnier if you are familiar with the material (I was one of two people in the theater who laughed aloud at the Chinatown reference in Hot Fuzz), but it’s funny, anyway, because the joke isn’t HEY GUYS REMEMBER STAR WARS or TEKKEN, YOU PLAYED THAT, it’s the “terminal intensity” of Tim’s obsession with Star Wars, or framing bickering between Tim and Daisy with a button-mashing Tekken match. The jokes are clever, fun, and fast, but they never lose you. They grab you and take you on a frantic, endorphin-rush of a ride.
I’ve heard Spaced described as surreal, and while I’m not sure that’s the word I’d use, it is casually strange in a way few other shows are, and the strangeness can’t always be justified as a result of drugs. Sometimes this is mocking stock tropes, like Tim and Mike’s repeated, abortive flashbacks to some unnamed childhood trauma, but other times it’s just something bizarre that’s allowed to pass without much comment, like the fact that Mike got kicked out of the territorial forces because he tried to invade Paris with a tank, the fact that Daisy’s agent at the temp office is clearly a child or the way Colin always seems to be sitting on tables. What’s really weird is that this strangeness makes everything feel more true. Like the best weird things, the unreality of it helps it to get at a beautiful, hilarious truth, and also to pack in a staggering amount of jokes into about twenty minutes.
I think the reason this show works, and the reason it makes me so happy, is that I love these characters. They start off so low, out of work, dumped, and depressed, and it’s mostly their own fault, because Tim would rather play video games and rewatch Star Wars than work at getting an art gig, and Daisy would rather talk about writing than actually write. But I’m always in sympathy with them, and there’s a sort of sweetness to the way Stevenson and Pegg write about Tim and Daisy and all their self-inflicted misery, about loony Mike and nervous Brian, lonely Martha and dizzy Twist. Spaced isn’t afraid to be sweet, which sets it apart from comedies that tend to feature terrible things happening to terrible people, like Arrested Development, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Eastbound & Down. Instead, Spaced is about terrible things happening to people you really like, but it’s like when a friend does something stupid and you can’t help but laugh and wince at the same time, because they are ALWAYS doing that, and next time it’s just as likely it will be you lying flat on your back after pulling some stupid stunt. We want Tim and Daisy and the rest to succeed, and Wright, Pegg, and Stevenson want them to succeed too. They know where the comedy is in that, and they squeeze it out of every minute.
Spaced is like a late night car ride with good wild friends who you know are going to get you into some trouble, but you wouldn’t miss it for anything. It is quick shots of surreality and cleverness and sweetness that can jump you up like a shot of espresso when your day, or your life, is feeling rundown and tired. Spaced tells you it’s all going to be all right, and blows right through you and takes your mind with it. Unfortunately they only made two seasons, but Spaced is one of my favorite things, and we should all thank Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, and Edgar Wright that it even exists. Just remember that Jessica Stevenson is now Jessica Hynes, if you’re looking her up on Twitter or something, and don’t leave her out of your thanking. Simon and Edgar don’t like it.