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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t’s difficult to write about “Spaced” without first mentioning the intense industry adoration that surrounds it. Here are just a handful of the many quotes in the press release from people whose names you know only too well:
“The one, the only…Spaced. Accept no substitute.” – Quentin Tarantino
“Spaced is utter brilliance…a series for, well, anyone who has ever lived.” – JJ Abrams
“…like watching a Kevin Smith film if Kevin Smith had any real talent.” – Kevin Smith
“I laughed hard and I hate comedy.” – Judd Apatow
“The first TV show to combine my love of Star Wars, Evil Dead, and funny Brits. If I had grown up in England this show would be the documentary of my life.” – Eli Roth
“…the sole reason I bought an all region DVD player. Now you have no excuse! Buy this and be officially cool.” – Bill Hader
“Annoyingly good.” – Eddie Izzard
Having read these comments, you also have to consider two possibilities: is “Spaced” really that good, or is it just plain annoying? When that many people of that ilk are trying to shove it down your throat, instinct might be to write it off sight unseen. (“Oh, it can’t be that good.”) Do that, and you might miss out. But if it’s so damn great, why has it taken so long for it to reach our shores on the coveted silver DVD platter? (It’s nearly ten years old at this point.) Actually, I don’t know the answer to that, but clearly the Region 1 release of “Spaced” is being looked at and treated as a major event. For the first time in recent memory, BBC Worldwide has prepared a special package for a North American DVD release of one of their shows. This isn’t a mere re-release of material that’s been available in the U.K. for several years. It’s jam-packed with so many new extras that you can bet U.K. “Spaced” nuts will be importing this collection from across the pond and playing it on their all region players.
The good news is that “Spaced” is a charming, funny, witty TV show. The bad news is that, well, um…there is no bad news, per se. But my recommendation is to not buy into all the hype and realize before going into it that “Spaced’s” charms are so sweetly and quietly magical – and perhaps universally geeky – that they just happen to have worked their spell on folks like Tarantino and Abrams, who are, after all, just geeks like us, only they get big paychecks to indulge their geekdom. The show is not the second coming of Christ and there isn’t anything especially revolutionary about it, particularly given many similarly executed shows and films that have been produced since “Spaced” first hit the scene. Steven Moffat’s “Coupling,” for instance, stomps all over “Spaced” from a structural and writing standpoint, and Ricky Gervais’ original version of “The Office” is a far more poignant slice of life. It’s really Edgar Wright’s filmic direction that elevates the material into something more special than it probably is. The guy knew his way around a camera way back then, as he does these days in features like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” two other concepts from the same creative team that owe far more of their success to Wright’s direction than to the scripts he’s working with.
The premise of “Spaced” is almost ridiculously simple: Two twentysomething slackers, Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg), a struggling comic book artist, and Daisy Steiner (Jessica Hynes), a writer who seems unable to write, are both in need of housing. He has split from his girlfriend, and she’s found her various roommate situations have become intolerable. They decide to move into a flat that calls for a professional couple, and in the grand tradition of “Three’s Company,” they must pretend to be something they are not in order to have a place to live. A supporting cast of colorful characters round out the episodic non-narratives. Landlady Marsha (Julia Deakin) is never seen without a cigarette or a glass of red wine in hand. Loads of priceless gags are mined from Tim and Daisy’s marriage pretense and Marsha’s failure to recognize it as a sham, and by the end of the series there’s even some bittersweet pathos in regard to the situation. Tim’s best friend from childhood, Mike (Nick Frost), is obsessed with war. Twist (Katy Carmichael) is Daisy’s airheaded pal, and she’s probably the least defined character on the show. Finally, there’s Brian (Mark Heap), an artist and downstairs neighbor who’s as whacked as every artist you’ve ever met that scared the hell out of you.
What’s likely the appealing factor is the almost stream of conscious way the show works. There aren’t any great stories being told here, only great moments. If I told you that an episode revolved around a paintball game, you might think “So what?” If I told you that one of the players in the game is the guy who stole Tim’s girlfriend, well, that makes for a possibly engaging half hour. One episode features Tim so stoned and transfixed by playing video games for 24 hours that he imagines the zombies are coming out of the walls to get him. At one point Tim loses his job at a comic book store simply over his low opinion of “The Phantom Menace.” The show is crammed full of so many pop culture references and homages that I stopped counting after around the third episode. Many work, some don’t. An episode in which Daisy takes a lowly job working in a restaurant goes so far with its “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” parody that I had no choice but to grin with admiration. However, the aforementioned loathing of “Menace” seems particularly dated at this point because, after all, “Revenge of the Sith” kicked so much ass. (Clearly, your mileage may vary.) In one of the commentaries, Wright mentions that some of the stuff even he regrets putting in for these very reasons. But that’s all splitting hairs. Taken for the late ‘90s/early ‘00s time capsule that it is, “Spaced” will certainly work its magic on you, especially if, like so many of us, you were a slacker trying to find your way at the time in which it is set.
Special Features: There are two full sets of commentary tracks on all 14 episodes. The first batch features the cast and crew, and are duplicated from the original BBC releases. The second set is brand new, exclusive to this release, and very much geared toward American pop culture sensibilities. All feature Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes in addition to the guest commentators, except for those marked with an asterisk, which feature only Wright and the guest:
Episode 1: Kevin Smith
Episode 2: Kevin Smith
Episode 3: Kevin Smith
Episode 4: Diablo Cody
Episode 5: Diablo Cody
Episode 6: Matt Stone
Episode 7: Patton Oswalt*
Episode 1: Quentin Tarantino
Episode 2: Patton Oswalt*
Episode 3: Quentin Tarantino
Episode 4: Patton Oswalt*
Episode 5: Matt Stone
Episode 6: Bill Hader*
Episode 7: Bill Hader*
One of the standout extras here is an 80-minute documentary called “Skip to the End,” which features all the principals talking about and dissecting the wonders of “Spaced.” A Q&A reunion that was held at the National Film Theatre in London in October of 2007 runs nearly an hour. There’s a music video by Osymyso called “Spaced Jam.” There are loads of outtakes, raw footage, and trailers used to promote the series as well as the obligatory photo gallery and cast and crew biographies. Finally, there’s a little something called the “Homage-O-Meter,” which is a handy little subtitle option that pops info up onscreen to track all the many pop culture references that litter the series.