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The Fall (Season 1)

Starring Gillian Anderson, Jamie Dornan

Created by Allan Cubitt

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I am, in general, not a fan of serial killer stories. I am squeamish about the fearful final moments of victims that filmmakers and storytellers like to linger on, and these killer stories in particular tend to fetishize violence against women. And yet, somehow, I’ve found myself consuming and enjoying a lot of them lately. I’m currently hooked on Larime Taylor‘s comic series A Voice in the Dark, about a young late night college radio host struggling with her compulsion to kill. I recently finished reading The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, about a time-travelling killer driven to snuff out the lives of brilliant, vibrant young women.  And, most recently, I accidentally watched all of the BBC drama The Fall, in one sitting, right before I was supposed to go to bed.

In The Fall, Gillian Anderson plays Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, a coolly professional police officer brought to Belfast to formally assess an ongoing murder investigation. Soon, she is in charge of a task force chasing a serial killer, while an explosive scandal simmers in the department. Meanwhile, the killer himself puts his children to bed, kisses his sleeping wife, and opens his notebook to plot his next kill…

Part of what makes these killer thrillers palatable to me is that they actively work to confront or subvert the establish tropes of the killer genre. Every murder scene in The Shining Girls is from the victim’s perspective, not the killer’s, denying readers a voyeuristic thrill. Beukes’s says she hoped to establish the girls as “characters rather than pretty corpses”, and as a consequence, each death is painful, sad, and terribly frightening. A Voice in the Dark, though superficially similar to Dexter and other Heroic Psychopath stories, more deliberately attacks the demographics of the slasher genre, putting the knife in the hand of a young biracial girl and populating the story with women of all shapes, sizes, races, and sexual orientations. Also, like The Fall‘s creator, Allan Cubitt, Taylor is explicitly aware of the racism and sexism so often inherent in both these kinds of crimes and the fictional genre inspired by them.

“One of the ways the killer is able to perpetrate such crimes is by objectifying and dehumanising their prey,” Cubitt says, in an article before the finale of the first series. “I think it’s important that drama doesn’t do that.” This awareness shapes the way the story of The Fall is told, so that Spector’s victims are entirely human to us, characters not corpses. Although we spend a lot of time with the killer, and he is driven by a need to literally and explicitly objectify his victims, the show takes pains to ensure that we don’t see the victims the way he sees them. They are people brought to a horrifying end. And although the killer may try to erase their humanity, DSI Gibson never forgets.

Through Stella Gibson, the show is able to call out and criticize the violence against women endemic to the genre and the world at large. Gibson finds nothing poetic, sexy, or fascinating about these killings. “It’s just misogyny,” she says. “Anyone have any doubt about the gender of the person responsible?” Gibson rarely raises her voice, but she asserts her feminism constantly, refusing to allow her detectives to judge or shame the victims, refusing to dignify Spector’s misogynistic spree, refusing to express embarrassment for having a one-night stand with a fellow officer. We rarely catch glimpses of her personal life, but through her actions we come to know her as methodical, quick-thinking, and relentless. She is, in some ways, the antithesis of Luther as a police detective. Though equally as driven, Gibson isn’t volatile, and never risks destroying an investigation through egotistical grandstanding. That kind of behavior is left to corrupt police officials. And the killer.

The cool force of Gibson’s personality meshes with the tense, muted mood of the chase to create an atmosphere punctuated by startling thunderclaps of violence. While Gibson does vocally criticize the misogyny of the crimes, the story does most of its emotional and psychological work with greater subtlety. The men around Gibson, from the obsessive, murderous Spector to smoothly competent Detective Eastwood, are revealed to be wearing masks of fragile stoicism over barely controlled emotions. It’s a powerful recurring device that the louder a character is, the weaker his position. The Fall is a quiet storm, a carefully constructed cascade of emotional reactions that feel all the more real for being so actively and constantly suppressed.

The serial killer genre is prone to exploitation, to fetishization, to gimmick and cliche. The Fall is none of these qualities. What it, and The Shining Girls and A Voice in the Dark, share is a willingness to acknowledge the sexism and misogyny at the heart of these kinds of crimes and stories, and to address it directly. The viewer should be upset and horrified by the deaths we witness; we should feel that the victims are people, not props. We should see that women populate our fictional world as much as our real one, not just as the victim but also as the detective, the medical examiner, the constable, the hero. We should see the emotional truth of the characters, male and female, struggling against a violently misogynistic worldview. The Fall works at every level to deliver a compelling, tension-filled story that is laced throughout with the unfortunate truth: men are responsible for terrifying violence against women. It makes you grateful for Stella Gibson. She sees that truth with clear eyes, and like a scalpel, she means to cut it out.

The Fall is instantly viewable on Netflix, and for purchase on Amazon on DVD or digital download.

Orphan Black (Season 1)

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Starring Tatiana Maslany, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard, Dylan Bruce, Maria Doyle Kennedy

Created by Graeme Manson and John Fawcett

Orphan Black had me right from the beginning, introducing Sarah Manning and the central mystery of the show in three breath-taking minutes without a wasted moment. Even though there are only 10 episodes, each a little less than an hour long, the season feels full, deep, without feeling busy or crowded. Each episode is a cliffhanger, pulling the viewer deeper into the mystery of the orphans and the high tension acrobatics of impersonation and intrigue that inevitably arise in a series about lookalikes.

The series follows Sarah Manning, an orphan and hustler with a seven-year-old daughter she hasn’t seen in 10 months, a drug dealer boyfriend to whom she owes money, and the exact same face as a woman who just threw herself in front of a train. When she assumes the woman’s identity, hoping to scam enough money to reclaim her daughter and go on the run, she finds herself in trouble with the police, on the run from a killer, and being drawn into a conspiracy involving ever more women who look just like her.

Sarah is my favorite kind of hero. She’s rough around the edges, often casually or even compulsively deceptive, but despite her complicated relationship with her family, she is loyal and, no matter how many times she tries to walk away, unquestionably brave. She can’t walk away, not from her family, not from the orphans, not from the woman whose life she has stolen. Something binds her to the fight, some mixture of loyalty – to her family and genetic twins – and sheer punk rock rebelliousness against whoever is playing games with her life. It’s this combination that makes her the protagonist of the show, and a bonafide hero: even her fellow “copies” look to her for leadership; even the antagonists remark that she is special.

The antagonists, speaking of which, are nicely complicated, and despite the shadows cast by corporatism and mad science, I don’t detect much of the usual science fiction trope of What Hath Science Wrought that’s been part of the genre since its inception. Much like Fringe, which I’ve been watching a lot of lately, the science is as likely to be the solution as the problem. The real problems faced by the characters are much more existential than that, a tangled mess of shared genes, assumed identity, and unfathomable purpose. The villains are charming and monstrous in equal measure, capable of generating sympathy while remaining a very real and dangerous threat. It’s risky to make assumptions in the orphan’s world, and difficult to know who to trust. Who can best protect the orphans from the killer who seems set on eliminating them: the cheerful and charismatic transhumanist or the driven and eminently capable detective?  Who has their best interests at heart?

Tatiana Maslany is the core of the show, for obvious reasons, convincingly playing multiple characters, often in the same scene, each with her own motivations and neuroses, strengths and vulnerabilities. She plays both the protagonist and the supporting cast, although the other supporting characters, especially Felix, her foster brother, are also instantly recognizable and endearing. Orphan Black is a well crafted drama based around well-realized characters, and every minute feels rich with meaning, tension, and possibility. Season 1 feels whole and complete and fulfilling, and yet I am so hungry for more. More mystery. More deception, more thrills. More of everything Orphan Black.

Season 1 is streaming on Amazon, or for sale on DVD and BluRay. Catch up before the new season starts April 19th on BBC America.

 

 

Bob’s Burgers (Seasons 1 and 2)

Starring H. Jon Benjamin, Dan Mintz, Eugene Mirman, John Roberts, and Kristen Schaal

Created by Loren Bouchard

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I have a difficult time writing about comedy. I don’t have the language for it, maybe, because I’m so used to thinking in terms of dramatic plot and round characters and rising tension, and don’t know how to apply that to something that is primarily comedic. So when I love a comedy, I don’t really know how to talk about it beyond saying that it makes me happy. Why do I love Spaced more than Eastbound and Down? I like Eastbound and Down, it’s pretty great, but Spaced makes me happy. And even when I understand why I find something so funny and joyous, I’m wary of explaining the joke, of making something laugh-out-loud funny seem silly and dull.

But this is the year of challenging myself, so today I’m going to try to capture what I love about Bob’s Burgers.

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Bob’s Burgers is the antidote to bad days. I avoided it for a while, afraid it would be some kind of Family Guy clone, five-count cartoon family, dumb dad, precocious kids, etc, etc. But it is so much sillier and stranger and funnier than that, and has little in common with Famly Guy or The Simpsons other than the dad wearing white shirts all the time. It doesn’t rely on pop culture references, topical humor, or shock-value gags. It is goofy character-driven fun that brightens my whole day.

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The names H. Jon Benjamin (of Home Movies and Archer) and Kirsten Schaal (of Flight of the Conchords, The Daily Show, and Gravity Falls) were what finally brought me in. Coach McGuirk and Mel? Yes! Now, at first, you will probably find it strange that Schaal is the only female voice actor when the main cast is 60% female. Linda and Tina are voiced by John Roberts and Dan Mintz, and that will seem weird at first, and funny later, and then you’ll forget all about it and be unable to imagine them having any other voice. The voice acting in this show is 100% excellent, from regular cast to special guests, including Kevin Kline, Sarah Silverman, and Aziz Ansari. I’m not sure how, but H. Jon Benjamin manages to both have a comfortingly distinctive voice and completely and uniquely inhabit the character of Bob. Good voice acting makes you believe in the characters, and the talent in this show really does that for me.

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It’s a character-driven kind of comedy, similar to Spaced, in that the characters do have certain comedy-driving traits – Bob is stubborn and proud, Linda is obsessive, Louise is manipulative – but they aren’t two-dimensional. Bob is proud because he’s genuinely great at what he does, which is making burgers (Mr. Fishoeder, the landlord, calls him a “beefartist”), even if that same pride makes it hard for him to admit that he’s terrible at running his business. Linda gets obsessed with strange things, but she devotes that same obsessive interest to supporting and encouraging her family. And Louise torments her siblings and manipulates stupid adults, but her relationship with Bob is actually one of the sweeter aspects of the show. There’s a lot of sweetness here, between the characters. And the relationships between them have such an instant familiarity that it makes the comedy sharper, and deeper, than I think it would be with a shallower cartoon family

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Family is kind of the key, both to the comedy and to my deep affection for the show. The relationships between the characters, the sense of family, feel very real to me. The Belchers feel like a family, and the comedy is as likely to be silly family stuff as wacky hijinks involving angry vegan documentarians or bank heists. The show isn’t realistic, exactly, but the cartoon world of Bob’s Burgers doesn’t feel too terribly far from our own, and the Belcher family doesn’t feel so far away from families I have known. It’s not about making commentary or lampooning real life in some way. It’s a comedy about a family trying to make ends meet, and also about kids growing up loving their family but really having no sense of the stakes involved in being an adult. Gene and Louise just want to be weird and have fun, and Tina doesn’t have a choice about being weird because she’s a teenage girl and just wants to touch Jimmy Pesto Jr.’s BUTT. And because, as a viewer, you are invited to participate in this family comedy, you, or at least I, develop so much affection for this family. I love them, every one of them, but probably Tina the most, because awww, Tina.

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Looking back, I’m doing a terrible job of describing why Bob’s Burgers is funny. It’s weird and silly and smart, vulgar but not exploitative, simultaneously problematic and generous in its handling of, say, trans* sex workers, takes joy in avoiding easy moral lessons and then delivers some unexpectedly sharp and insightful joke as a throwaway gag in the middle of a scene. It takes risks and can be almost too goofy sometimes, but it always comes back to the family, and well-crafted comedy, and a generous amount of heart. That’s why I love it, and I hope, if you give it a chance, you’ll love it too.

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Watch seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, or on Hulu, or on Fox Sundays. Or buy Seasons 1 and 2 on Amazon.

All gifs are from the Bob’s Gifs Tumblr.

Game of Thrones (Seasons 1 – 3)

Starring Sean Bean, Michelle Fairley, Richard Madden, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Alfie Allen, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Sibel Kekilli, Charles Dance, Jack Gleeson, Aidan Gillen, Conleth Hill, Stephen Dillane, Natalie Dormer, Emilia Clarke, Iain Glen, Rose Leslie, Liam Cunningham, and more.

Based on the novels by George R. R. Martin

Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

I’ve written this without much in the way of spoilers, I think, but some of the links contain spoilers for one or more seasons, and I won’t guarantee that comments, if there are any, won’t discuss plot details you may not wish to know. Proceed with caution.

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Season 3 clinched it. I’m in love with Game of Thrones. I know, it’s a big shock, falling in love with the show that has been HBO’s biggest success since The Sopranos, and can boast of being the most pirated television property of all time. Still, I can’t stop thinking about it – its tragedies, its intrigues, its characters – and I can’t stop whistling the theme song, so Game of Thrones is what we’re talking about this week. Besides, as always, it’s not enough for me to love a thing (or loathe a thing, for that matter); I have to think about why. So why do I love a show full of death, betrayal, misery, torture, sexual slavery, misogynist language, gratuitous nudity, and wartime atrocities?

I was all set to say that it all boils down to character, but that would be selling the complex plot far too short. George R.R. Martin and the show’s writers have woven together a complex, rich narrative, full of convergences and divergences, cunning revelations and dramatic irony, potent foreshadowing and truly shocking twists of fate. Into this web they’ve suspended so many characters that it is helpful to have a chart (and several fans have, in fact, made them, sometimes with hilarious results). The number of characters doesn’t seem to detract much from their depth, however. Each scene is like a portrait, in which we can see the tragic nobility of Robb Stark, the hard-won strength of Daenerys Targaryen, the unexpected humanity of Cersei Lannister revealed. Each scene shows us the human beings at the core of this world, and how precarious their positions are, no matter what their name or rank. At any moment, with or without help, they could lose their balance and fall.

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire, an ongoing series of fantasy books by George R.R. Martin, infamous for its bleak setting and unexpected character deaths. The world has had a long summer, but winter is coming, and with it a struggle for the crown of the Seven Kingdoms. Families Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, and others plot, intrigue, and war against each other, while across the Narrow Sea, the last scion of the ruling Targaryens gathers an army to reclaim her kingdom. Meanwhile, far to the north, beyond the great ice wall manned by the Night’s Watch, something ancient and evil is stirring. Winter is coming, and magic is returning to the world. But this isn’t standard fantasy, where heroes never die in vain and magic and faith can save the world. The focus is more on intrigue than mass combat, and more about the monstrous things that human beings are capable of than legendary monsters and black magic. Westeros is a dark, unsettling place, and Game of Thrones is a show that shocks and thrills, and reaches inside to wring the feelings from your heart. It is, in sum, amazing.

It’s probably worth mentioning here that I’ve never read any of the books, despite getting my entire family to read them and receiving multiple recommendations that I do so from friends. With all respect to Mr. Martin, I’m kind of glad I’ve never picked them up. I have nothing to compare the show to except itself, and although I’ve gotten some fascinating insights from people comparing and contrasting the show versus the books, I’m very happy to have Peter Dinklage always and forever be my Tyrion Lannister, and Maisie Williams always be my Arya Stark. Although certain things have been spoiled for me through reading internet commentary or enthusing to knowing friends about characters or events on the show, I’m content coming into Game of Thrones with no expectations, other than, obviously, DEATH.

That expectation has been drilled into me by everyone who has ever recommended the series to me. My brother says he always tells people “Don’t get attached to anyone.” It’s hard to do. Everyone has a favorite, whether it is honorable Jon Snow, roguish Tyrion Lannister, regal Daenerys Targaryen, or dutybound Stannis Baratheon. GRRM himself has said that one of his goals is to make readers (and viewers) genuinely afraid for the lives and well-being of their favorite characters. The story of Game of Thrones is such that no one’s life is sacred. So deeply ingrained in the fabric of the story is this Anyone Can Die premise that even when I knew a favorite character would live (due to spoilers), I watched her approach an impending massacre thinking “No. No, oh no no no.” This is the grimdark fantasy setting of Game of Thrones, where rape is appallingly common, children are murdered because of their family name, and the long dark winter is coming. It’s not a hopeful, happy place. As one character puts it “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

The story feels awash in blood, and most of it, I feel, comes from assassination, execution, and murder. Violence in Game of Thrones isn’t cartoonish like Spartacus: Blood and Sand, or sensational like Braveheart. Instead it is visceral and uncomfortable, providing life and death thrills while also making you cringe, much like another excellent HBO property, Rome. The assassination of Caesar is awful to watch, while Pullo’s battle with his gladiator executioners makes me cheer. Game of Thrones is similar, in that we fear death in this show, but we also cheer to see our favorite characters come out on top and live to fight again, and we hope to see the show’s many monsters and villains receive their just desserts. For instance, I’m pretty sure every viewer eagerly awaits a violent end for Joffrey Baratheon, but I have a feeling that if and when we get it, it will be a mix of satisfying and queasy-causing, not necessarily by the means, but because this show doesn’t differentiate between the deaths of heroes and villains. As the saying goes, there are no good deaths. Only bad deaths and worse deaths.

One of the first acts we see is the apparent hero of the story conducting an execution, illustrating the setting’s grim perspective from the outset. What all this gloom and blood establishes, though, is a way for our characters to defy those expectations. The reason the Starks appear to be our central heroes is because their nobility and sense of honor set them apart from the world in which they live. Raised miles away from the bloody intrigues of King’s Landing, the Stark children are largely innocent to the cruelty of the world, although Arya Stark bucks hard against the idea of being ladylike, and Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy both have their burdens to bear as outsiders within the Stark family. Still, they are as good as people get on Westeros, and establishing them this way sets the characters up to lose that innocence when the “real” world comes knocking, no matter how many times their father warns them that Winter is Coming. However, it also allows them to provide some of the only moments of brilliance, compassion, and nobility in the series, a shining contrast against a bleak and brutal world.

The show finds that compassion and nobility in unexpected places sometimes, too, which is part of its brilliance. Characters who initially appear irredeemable and despicable often shine in unexpected ways, most obviously in Tyrion Lannister, the show’s designated noble rogue, but more impressively in his brother and sister. Cersei Lannister, in addition to being Joffrey’s mother, which is The Worst of All Crimes, wields her power as Queen with deliberate and monstrous cruelty, but she also has these amazing moments of humanity, even in the first season, that keep her from being a complete monster. Her brother, Jaime, is all ridiculous, amoral, gold-plated arrogance when he first struts onscreen, but his sociopathic charm masks unexpected depth. Even Sandor Clegane, called the Hound, while remaining pretty much a self-loathing psychopath from the start, gets his moments of vulnerability and redemption, mostly through his association with the Stark girls. I think this contrast of the horror of Westeros with the human capacity for nobility and grace, all within a single character, is why GRRM writes in such a grim setting. By hurling people against the unyielding darkness of an evil world, he can show us the sparkling stars of humanity against the relentless Westerosi night.

As Tansy Rayner Roberts says, “if your political system is inherently and essentially misogynist and that is essential to your worldbuilding, then throwing a few women into that system to see what cracks first is actually the most interesting thing you could do.” The Seven Kingdoms are that misogynist political system, where a woman’s value is primarily in the alliances she can secure by marriage, and the security of the dynasty through producing heirs. A woman’s children are, almost literally, everything she is, which is demonstrated and explicitly stated by both Catelynn Stark and Cersei Lannister. They are each strong, intelligent women, the pinnacle of what women are allowed to achieve in this culture, and yet their destinies are strictly controlled by the patriarchs of their respective families. On one side of them, we have Olenna Tyrell, the elderly grandmother, so on top of the game she is the defacto head of her family and the only person we hear openly complaining about the sexist state of affairs in Westeros, for which she is sternly rebuked by Cersei. And on the other side we have Sansa Stark, plucked from Winterfell and dropped in the middle of a complex social game, playing without allies, a fourteen year old girl circled by spiders and mockingbirds, lions and wolves. Anyone who feels indifference or hatred toward Sansa rather than pity or admiration must, in my opinion, be watching an entirely different show. Sansa is learning as she goes, and from the most unforgiving of teachers.

I haven’t even touched on some of my favorite characters, women who directly reject their prescribed fates and choose to make their own: Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth, and the magnificent Daenerys Targaryen. Bucking the system and yet still subject to it, they are some of the most rewarding characters to watch. All three have loved ones stolen from them. All three are threatened with sexual violence to some degree or another. All three walk a knife’s edge, relying on their cunning, strength of arms, or innate, dragonborn strength to navigate a world that is altogether hostile to them. I get a real sense that GRRM and the writers for the show love these characters – which, for reasons described above, makes me nervous – and are really pulling for them, as they struggle upward against a landslide of shitty dudes, broken promises, and charred bodies. I’m losing my train of thought in my admiration for these characters, so let’s all agree: Danaerys sitting on the Iron Throne with Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark as her right and left hand. Best possible ending? Somebody draw this for me.

I love Game of Thrones because I can’t stop thinking about it; its character live in my imagination, and its stories fuel speculation and deep thought. It isn’t without its problems, some of which are disappointing enough that I don’t necessarily blame anyone for choosing not to watch. It is brutally violent, female characters are routinely threatened with rape, or the plot finds ways to get women naked while the camera follows them. The world is full of brothels, and nonwhite people who all seem to be treacherous pirates or barbarians. But, in spite of these things, I love the show. The characters are rich, well-rounded, and excellently performed, and the story rewards close attention and consideration with unforeseen parallels and literary depth. I don’t want to say that you are missing out, if you choose not to watch for whatever reason, but…I do feel like you are missing out on one of the best dramas on television.

The third season having just ended, so you have almost an entire year to catch up, if you are behind. HBO would prefer you watch it here. You can also buy Seasons One and Two on DVD.

Spaced (Seasons 1 and 2)

Starring Jessica Stevenson, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Mark Heap, Katy Carmichael, Julia Deakin

Directed by Edgar Wright

Written by Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg

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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.

Watch Spaced on Netflix or buy the complete series at Amazon.