|Available at Amazon.com|
Forty-five seconds into the first episode of Spaced I was hooked. It’s when Simon Pegg’s groveling after his girlfriend breaks up with him. He tells her he can be more emotional; he cried like a baby at the end of Terminator 2.
This was my introduction. I had read about the show on different web sites and blogs. All I knew is that the series was a precursor to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Both of those films were twists on their prospective genres: zombie horror and action. Spaced is another genre-twister only this time it’s a situation comedy that was pitched to network brass as a cross between Northern Exposure, The Simpsons and The X-Files.
Starting with “Beginnings,” Daisy Steiner (Jessica Stevenson) and Tim Bisley (Pegg) are two miserable twenty-somethings who have no direction in life and who are in need of new lodgings. Tim, kicked out by his girlfriend, and Daisy, who had been squatting in her girlfriend’s loft, meet at a small café and start to talk. Mostly about finding better lodgings, but soon a friendship develops. Each has idiosyncrasies. Daisy is an aspiring writer, who has anti-social issues when it comes to working in retail. (When asked a question by a customer, she replies with a “F*ck you!”) Tim aspires to be a comic book artist, but he also loves popular culture – video games and science fiction, especially. Daisy’s eureka moment of finding the perfect loft is almost deflated with the fact that it’s listed for couples only. She convinces the reluctant Tim to pose as her husband. And with some fake photos and a made-up back story of how they met, memorized just long enough to fool Marsha Klein (Juia Deakin), the landlady, it does just the trick.
This first episode also introduces the major supporting cast. There’s Mike (Nick Frost), Tim’s best friend. He’s someone who could be easily mistaken for an army brat. Dressed in military garb, he once tried to invade Paris with a tank but was stopped at Euro Disney when he tried to overtake Space Mountain.
Brian (Mark Heap), the tormented artist, lives in the flat below Tim and Daisy. He gives off the impression that he’s loud and intense, but whenever the landlady comes snooping about he’s timid. They have a history that goes down a path of sordid details that don’t need mentioning.
Twist (Katy Carmichael), is Daisy’s best friend and works in fashion as a photogra…um, dry cleaner. Tim pretty much sums her up at the beginning of “Back,” when he says she’s either “sweet, but stupid, or an evil genius.” When introduced to Brian they begin a beautiful, sex-filled love affair, full of photographs and other toys.
With each episode we get a feel for the characters. Though they seemingly drift through life, at least they make it entertaining. Like in the third episode, “Art.” Tim plays Resident Evil 2 for 24 hours straight after ingesting some cheap speed. He hallucinates while playing the game, thinking his controller is a shotgun and his flat is infested with zombies. You’d have to be a dolt if you can’t see this as one of the inspirations behind Shaun of the Dead. Once the second series (season) begins, Tim still can’t get over his hatred of The Phantom Menace, even after eighteen months. He burns boxes of Star Wars memorabilia and even yells at a comic book customer who just loves Episode 1.
Spaced is definitely a series for lovers of strange fantasy sequences and pop culture references. Newcomers to the show would probably liken it to Scrubs in that it incorporates these sequences to the utmost. Within minutes of the second series premiere, I couldn’t help but spot a Pulp Fiction reference. Then the episode sort of drifts into a Matrix pastiche with a duo of Agent Smith look-alikes grilling Daisy about her arrival to London from her Asian excursion.
Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson do double duty as the main characters and as the writers of all fourteen episodes. Even with all the references to The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next, and The A-Team, they manage to keep the show realistic in its quality. There are no special episodes about drug use, unlike, say that episode of Saved by the Bell where Jessie was addicted to caffeine pills. All drugs are used in the recreational sense. And the realism even extends to the wardrobe and appearance of the characters. Daisy is basically average in looks, and Tim looks like a comic book geek. But this isn’t True Romance with Simon Pegg being approached by a call girl named Alabama. And the relationship Tim has with Mike, well you could is easily group it with the relationship J.D. and Turk have on Scrubs.
While one wishes there were more episodes (I sure do), the ending is a satisfying one. But at least you can look at Spaced and admire its references to geek culture. Basically, if you love comic books, movies, video games or television, you’ll like popping this in the DVD player and reminiscing about the good times.
All fourteen episodes come with anamorphic widescreen transfers that are solid albeit soft. The transfers improve during the second season. The quality is nice, with a good level of detail, leaving out the dirt or other noticeable artifacts.
The sound is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0. Pretty respectable for TV quality, but don’t expect a dynamite mix. At least the music and sound effects have some oomph.
With its first Region 1 release, most of the bonus features found on the sets overseas have made it onto this mega 3-disc set. The biggest extra is a set of 28 (yes, 28!) episode-length audio commentaries, two per episode. We get the original U.K. commentaries, which feature Pegg, Edgar Wright (director), Stevenson and guests, including Deakin (Eps. 1.2 and 2.2), Heap (Eps. 1.3, 1.5, 1.6, 2.4, 2.6 and 2.7), Frost (Eps. 1.4, 1.6, 2.3 and 2.5) and series producer Nira Park (Ep. 1.7). The commentaries are more in touch with what is going on, with stories and reflections about the production, and what’s happening in each scene.
The second set of commentaries are fresh, retrospective tracks. Besides Wright or the combination of Wright and Pegg or Wright, Pegg and Stevenson, a number of celebrities who are fans of the show let their voices be heard. Included are Kevin Smith (Eps. 1.1-1.3) – I thought for sure he would be all over the second series premiere – Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody (Eps. 1.4 and 1.5), South Park co-creator Matt Stone (Eps. 1.6 and 2.5), comic Patton Oswalt (Eps. 1.7, 2.2 and 2.4), Quentin Tarantino (Eps. 2.1 and 2.3), and SNL‘s Bill Hader (Eps. 2.6 and 2.7). One would think these tracks would be nothing but silliness, but as we listen they help to explain British references to the American audience and explore the themes of the series.
Next to the 28 commentaries, the other big extras can be found on Disc Three. The feature-length documentary Skip to the End is a long, 80-minute look back at Spaced. Originally airing on Channel 4 TV in 2004, there is some overlapping of the material found here and what is talked about in the commentaries. The cast and crew participate to a good degree, with Pegg, Stevenson and Wright taking us on a tour of the filming locales used during production. A few fans, director Eli Roth and Ain’t It Cool News’s Harry Knowles, also make an appearance in sit-down sound bites in what is an entertaining look at the history of Spaced, from the characters and writing to its references and homages.
Also on Disc Three is the National Film Theatre Q&A from November 10, 2007. This Q&A was conducted after a Spaced marathon at the NFT in London. If you have ever seen An Evening with Kevin Smith, then you know it’s a lively atmosphere with adoring fans asking questions. Unfortunately Jessica Stevenson was unable to attend (a short playable intro explains why), but we do get two different Q&A sessions. The first features Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. The second session has Edgar, Simon, Nick Frost, Julia Deakin, Mark Heap, and Katy Carmichael. The total length for both sessions is about Fifty-eight minutes and fifty seconds. And because of bad acoustics and audio at the NFT subtitles have been included.
For those baffled by the references and homages and jokes, have no fear: there’s a subtitle track, dubbed the “Homage-O-Meter,” that points out all the references found in the fourteen episodes.
The rest of the extras relate to each season and can be found on each of the three discs. There are three sets of out-takes, one on each disc, adding up to more than 27 minutes of flubs and screw-ups on the set. Because Wright was big on multiple takes for each scene that is why we are left so much material to laugh at. Two sets of raw footage (about 14 minutes in all) appear on discs 1 and 2 and give us a behind-the-scenes experience for the first and second seasons.
Want more? How about 31 deleted scenes, which add up to 33 minutes of footage that were left in the cutting room? Some good stuff here, actually. One of the best bits from the first season is “The Duke of Knockers.” And for the second, we have a scene with Daisy consoling with a drink after a bad one night stand, and another scene with a Gillian Anderson look-alike (in an FBI outfit). All scenes come with optional commentary by Pegg and Wright.
Remember the days when you bought a DVD and the only features were interactive menus and cast and crew biographies? Well, the guys behind this DVD set were creative in the bio department and give us not only bios of the cast and crew bios but bios for the characters as well. So don’t overlook these bits of information as you may some interesting Top 5 lists.
Coming down the home stretch there’s 14 trailers (TV spots) that promoted the series on British TV, Daisy serenading Tim with a rendition of Elvis Pressly’s “Teddy Bear,” a photo gallery, and a three-minute music video entitled “Spaced Jam” by Osymyso. Actually, the music video is three minutes of electronica music playing underneath some clips from the program.
Whew. This set is loaded.
Spaced is a world we live in. A society of geeks that loves referencing pop culture. Pegg, Stevenson and Wright, in a small amount of time, have treated us to a world that is better than any you are likely to find on prime-time television. With its homages and fantasy sequences, it’s a brilliant single-camera situational comedy. Geekdom nirvana to put it bluntly. And this DVD set helps to showcase its greatness with a ton of supplemental material that is full of entertaining information. Though considering the extras for Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, would you expect anything less? This is a great package for fans and newcomers alike.
BBC Warner presents Spaced: The Complete Series. Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, and Mike Heap. Written by Pegg and Stevenson. Running time: 350 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: July 22, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.