(BBC Video) Spaced is a joyfully surreal English sitcom — originally broadcast in 1999 — that stars Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Star Trek, Paul) and Jessica Hynes (Doctor Who, Magicians, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason). The two also wrote every episode. It could safely be called the Evil Dead of sitcoms, with its wild, comic-book-like visual style and cartoonish storylines. The thing is littered with rapid-fire pop-culture and cinematic references, both verbal and visual. When the show was first aired in the UK, parties would gather round their screens and call out references as they were spotted. “Here's a shot from Scooby Doo, there's an angle from The Matrix. Here's a line pastiching Woody Allen. Here's another Star Wars bit (there are many Star Wars bits).”
Every character in Spaced is mad in some fashion: there's Pegg's slacker comic artist Tim, who is deathly afraid of bamboo because a psychologist once told him he had “canophobia”; his childhood friend Mike (Nick Frost), who acts as “security” at parties by carrying illegal firearms; Hynes' hapless would-be author Daisy, who writes a performance art piece consisting entirely of the word “rabbit”; the downstairs neighbor, Brian (Mark Heap), who paints “anger, fear, pain, aggression” and himself with manic ferocity; and their landlord, Marsha (Julia Deakin), who moves about in a sordid, stately reverie and is never seen without a cigarette.
The conceit of the show is that Tim and Daisy pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat intended for a 'professional married couple.' The show telegraphs its intentions in the very first scene, which is actually an intercut of two different scenes that tricks the viewer into thinking they're seeing just one. It's the kind of concept that takes a bit of thought to appreciate, and it may not even make sense until it hits you later. It's adventurous and novel — two words not traditionally associated with sitcoms. Spaced is written with a gleeful disregard for the rules of its format, having more in common with Marx Brothers films than traditional sitcoms. Take, for example, the following exchange after Tim's paintball rival's cell phone gives him away, leading to a John Woo-style standoff:
Duane Benzie: “Saved by the bell.”
Tim: “Are you gonna answer that?”
Duane Benzie: “I've got an answering service.”
Tim: “You've got an answer for everything.”
Duane Benzie: “I can't believe you just said that.”
Tim: “Neither c—[violent cough]... Neither can I.”
It's this kind of rapid-fire wordplay that the actors excel at. They go for it in every scene, throwing in weird little expressions and gestures that lend an air of insanity to even the routine interactions. Sometimes a scene will disintegrate into ridiculous dancing. Sometimes the actions of a character will mimic a poster on the wall behind them. There's a running gag about childhood flashbacks (referencing Flatliners) that go nowhere and explain nothing. If you're a fan of inspired nonsense, Spaced is like a gift from the gods. It's a prime example of why no idea should ever be dismissed as “too silly” in a comedy scenario.
Of course, it's the actors' commitment to the material that makes it work. There may be many — especially in the U.S. — who are unfamiliar with Simon Pegg's comedy talent. He was certainly good as Scotty in J.J. Abrams' reboot of Star Trek, but had a relatively small part. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz may be too violent or too genre-specific for some. His character on Doctor Who was almost entirely serious. You may not even know he was the voice of Reepicheep in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and of Thompson in The Adventures of Tintin. If you've let Pegg slip through the cracks of your awareness, suffice it to say that Spaced is the perfect vehicle for his style of comedy and brilliant sense of timing. His performance really shines and makes you want to see more.
Jessica Hynes (Jessica Stevenson, at the time of filming) is also great as the scattered and somewhat desperate Daisy. She and Pegg have a natural chemistry that transfers easily to their characters. The good news is that Pegg is currently filming A Fantastic Fear of Everything and Abrams' Star Trek sequel — both of which look excellent — and Hynes is filming Nativity 2: The Second Coming, with Doctor Who's own David Tennant. Until these are released, we'll have to content ourselves with the wonderfully crazed antics and sharply clever writing of Spaced. It's every bit as good as the day it first aired.
For Fans Of: The IT Crowd, The Marx Brothers, Shaun of the Dead
Why We Like It: Simon Pegg, Jessica (Stevenson) Hynes, adventurous writing, pushes the sitcom envelope