Friday, 8 April 2016

Spaced Episodes I-III: The Nerds Awaken

Spaced was a British sitcom directed by Edgar Wright and written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. It ran for two season of seven episodes each from 1999 to 2001. It chronicled the story of Pegg's Tim and Stevenson's Daisy, who pretend to be a couple in order to get an apartment in London, and their friends.

Really the show focuses on the directionlessness that people can feel in their twenties as they try to figure out what they want to do with their lives, form new relationships, and come up with ways to waste time. It also featured surreal fantasy sequences and innumerable allusions to pop culture, particularly science fiction and horror films, but also comic books and video games.

It kinda tips you off right away since its logo is a tribute to the horror science fiction film Alien.

A number of people might know Wright and Pegg as the pair who brought us the perfect Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, that is Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End. I've written before how that trio of films makes up the sole perfect unconventional trilogy in cinema history (the only perfect conventional trilogy is the Toy Story Trilogy.

Those films are beloved cult classics, each one paying homage to a specific genre of film, zombies, buddy cop, and invasion film respectively. And each one is filled to the brim with pop cultural references, witty dialogue, inventive editing, and just the smartest jokes. So I thought it would be a good idea to see where they started and they started with Spaced.

With these guys.

Since I'm reviewing the first three episodes in this post, I'm gonna break it down by episode rather than do it in a clump. The idea is that I'll be able to comment more clearly on each episode instead of just giving my general impressions. Here we go.

Episode I - Beginnings

Right from the offset Wright's trademark quick editing and visual humour are on display. The first episode begins with what looks like Tim and Daisy having a break-up as the camera cuts from Tim down on the street and Daisy in her bedroom window as they speak.

However it is revealed that Tim was actually talking to his girlfriend of five years Sarah and Daisy was talking to some (homeless?) guy she apparently had a drunken one night stand with. Which clears up the comedic disparity in Tim's pleas and Daisy's dismissive replies -
Tim: It's been five years, you know? Five years!
Daisy: I was, I was drunk.
"You think I'm unemotional, don't you? I can be emotional. Jesus, I cried like a child at the end of Terminator 2." - So did we all,Tim. So did we all.

I'm not gonna to try mention all the memorable quotes or clever moments since there are just too many, from The Shining and Scooby-Doo references in their new flat, to the smart montage of Tim and Daisy sitting at the same table in a cafe while "Getting to Know You" from The King and I plays.

This episode also has my favourite piece of dialogue ever:
Tim (talking to Daisy): You're scared of mice and spiders, but oh-so-much greater is your fear that one day the two species will cross-breed to form an all-powerful race of mice-spiders who will immobilize human beings in giant webs in order to steal cheese.
The editing is so quick and the direction is so sharp, with the witty pieces of dialogue flying here and there, that it's real easy to miss everything on first viewing. At the same time, it never feels cluttered and the episode does a good job of introducing the primary characters, even when we don't get to spend a lot of time with them.

We really only see Tim's best friend Mike and Daisy's best friend Twist in short cutaway intro scenes where we're told their names and primary character traits - Mike's is a weapons expert and Twist is into fashion. by which they mean Mike is using a slingshot and Twist works in a laundromat. And that's enough to go on.

We do get some time with Marsha, their new landlady who Tim and Daisy have to convince they are a couple and their downstairs neighbour, Brian. Brian is an artist.

Episode II - Gatherings

The second episode starts with a dream sequence and unlike the dream sequences in Batman V Superman, this one actually has a point. Tim dreams his ex Sarah is in his new fully unpacked flat with him before his alien monster costume attacks him. He then wakes up to find no Sarah in his new still to be unpacked apartment and then he attacks his alien monster costume out of frustration since he is still getting over Sarah.

Then there is a scene where Daisy is ostentatiously is trying to write but really is trying to put off writing as much as she can by procrastinating, mainly by bugging Tim they should finish unpacking. This leads to a nice bit of editing which shows a close up of Tim and Daisy's faces as they lie on their backs smoking while their dialogue suggests they just had sex...

Tim: Mmm, I''m glad we did that.
Daisy: We had to.
Tim: It was inevitable.

Only to zoom out and reveal they cleaned up the apartment. I like this since it not only plays on the dynamic between the two characters but also the trope of obvious will-they/won't-they sexual tension relationships in sitcoms and television shows.

Daisy decides to throw a party so she doesn't have to write. This is kinda a thing for Daisy, she wants to be a writer and be considered an intellectual but doesn't actually want to put in the hard work or even know how to get started.

The party also acts as narrative technique to get all the characters together in a room so they can all introduce themselves to each other. But let's just say that the party isn't quite a success since it turned out to be one of those Time-Warp and dip parties where no one has a real good time.

We've all been there.

Episode III - Art

And so we come to the episode which gave Wright and Pegg the idea for Shaun of the Dead, their first feature film and a cult favourite. The episode pivots around Tim's drug-induced illusions that everyone is a zombie after playing Resident Evil 2 on Playstation 2 on cheap speed all night.

On a side note, it's kinda quaint that when Daisy asks Tim if he wants anything from the shops, he says "porn". She says she isn't gonna buy him porn but it's funny how in only seventeen years, the idea of buying porn from a dairy seems completely antiquated and from another time.

Also in the episode, Daisy has an interview for a woman's magazine "Flaps" while Brian is invited to an art exhibition by his former artistic partner Vulva. Of course when I say invited, I mean Brian received a blank page with only the word "Come" on it because modern art.

I mentioned the zombies, right?

One thing that is apparent is that Daisy isn't the nicest person. Not because she's mean or a horrible but because she is so self-absorbed and vapid that she doesn't really consider other people. For example, she gets a couple of rejection letters and moans to Tim she wants to see her boyfriend Richard in Hull but completely forgets about him the second she sees the letter from "Flaps" about the interview.

She only wanted to see Richard, or moan to Tim about seeing Richard so they could talk, as a means to feel better about herself not because she actually wants to. To be fair to Daisy, Tim isn't that nice at times either, evident when Brian is talking to him about Vulva and Tim asks Brian if he's gonna go, as in leave his flat.

However for context, this is the art that Brian and Vulva made together.

I realise this review has been largely enthusiastic but to be honest there is little to criticise here. The show is pretty great and unlike some television shows Spaced started off strong and fully formed. On to the next four episodes.

I decided to start a list of pop cultural references I notice as we go along. I know I'm gonna miss a lot of them so I'll limit it to two or three notable ones from each episode.

Notable Pop Cultural References:

The Shining twins in the cupboard
Tim and Daisy dressed like Shaggy and Velma followed by the Scooby Doo theme
"If we have it, they will come" from Wayne's World 2 
Tim builds a mountain out his mashed potatoes like in Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Their refridgerator is CAL-9000, a distant ancestor of HAL-9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey
Psycho shower scene musical theme when Daisy gets paranoid after taking a spiff
Obviously Resident Evil 2, he plays the game throughout the episode

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