J u d g e E r i c h A s p e r c h l a g e r i s s p a c e d o u t .
Daisy: "We live in a fantasy world. We've just constructed this fake utopia where we never get old and never have to face the responsibilities of adulthood. We're just stretching our childhoods out as far as they can go."
Tim: "Yeah, I know. We're lucky, aren't we?"
As further proof that the geeks shall inherit the earth, see Spaced: The Complete Series.
Facts of the Case
For those who've never seen the cult-classic British sitcom Spaced—and if TV ratings and region-specific DVD releases are any indication, that's about 99.998% of the world's population—it follows the adventures of Tim and Daisy, two aimless twenty-somethings who pretend to be a couple in order to rent a North London flat (or, as we say in America, "apartment")—though that's really just the plot of the first half of the first episode. The series as a whole is more difficult to describe. Over the course of 14 half-hour episodes, struggling comic book artist Tim (Simon Pegg, Hot Fuzz) and motivationally challenged writer Daisy (Jessica Stevenson, Son of Rambow)—along with Tim's gun-toting best pal Mike (Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead), Daisy's fashionista friend Twist (Katy Carmichael, Dead Babies), tortured painter Brian (Mark Heap, Big Train), boozy landlady Marsha (Julia Deakin, Oh, Doctor Beeching!), and Daisy's cutie-pie terrier Colin—try their luck at life, love, and alcohol abuse, all filtered through geeky pop culture frames of reference and Edgar Wright's distinct directorial style.
If American audiences are at all familiar with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, it's likely thanks to either the zombie-parody Shaun of the Dead or action-parody Hot Fuzz. But before either of those films, they worked on the short-lived British comedy Spaced. And before that, they worked with Jessica Stevenson (now Jessica Hynes) on a show called Asylum—but never mind that. Let's talk about Spaced!
Since the end of Spaced's two season (or, as the British say, "series") run, in 2001, UK fanatics have been chomping at the bit for a third. Ever late to the party, Americans have had to settle for edited BBC America repeats, comic book convention bootlegs, and the hope that someday the series would get a proper stateside DVD release. Sorry to rub it in British fans, but we got our wish.
Though the genius of Spaced is too much a sum of its parts to easily explain, I should probably try to write something—so here goes: Spaced elevates and celebrates geekery. Created by some of the world's coolest geeks, it gives the rest of us something to watch that we don't have to hide if and when someone comes over. If you and your friends carry on conversations made up entirely of film and TV references, Spaced is for you. If you've ever argued about whether The Phantom Menace ruined the Star Wars franchise, Spaced is for you. If you've ever called a comic book a "graphic novel," Spaced is for you. If you just can't relate to the pretty young things who populate vapid sitcoms, Spaced is for you. If you grew up on a steady diet of '80s and '90s TV, toys, and movies, Spaced is for you. If you love stylish camera work, clever dialogue, deadpan comedy, and compelling characters, Spaced is for you. Basically, if you visit this site and don't have a blind hatred of the British, Spaced is for—you get the picture.
At the show's heart is the writing-performing duo of Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. They anchor the series with genuine friendship and a platonic/romantic tension that keep us rooting for them from beginning to end. By drawing heavily on their own lives and failed relationships, and letting their characters act like real people, Spaced feels more grounded in reality than most TV, even with all the imagined sequences and ambitious homages to films like The Empire Strikes Back, The Shining, Pulp Fiction, and Evil Dead II. It's to their credit and keen instincts that the show still works (despite a few dated Matrix references) a decade later, and across the Atlantic.
As good as Pegg and Stevenson are, Spaced wouldn't have worked without its stellar supporting cast: Nick Frost (Pegg's real-life friend and first-time actor), Stevenson's university pal and comedy partner Katy Carmichael, Mark Heap (whose resume includes both absurdist sketch comedy and animation voice work), and accomplished character actor Julia Deakin. Spaced's embarrassment of acting riches spills over into an equally impressive cast of secondary characters, including fan-favorite E-freak Tyres O'Flaherty (stand-up comic Michael Smiley), comic shop owner Bilbo Bagshot (Bill Bailey, Hot Fuzz), the devastatingly beautiful Sophie (Lucky Akhurst, Monarch of the Glen), and Peter Serafinowicz (aka. the voice of Darth Maul) as Tim's rival, Duane.
Pegg and Stevenson wrote it and the cast brought it to life, but Spaced owes a huge debt to someone we never see on screen (okay that's not true; he has a couple of cameos, but I figured mentioning that would ruin the dramatic tension). Edgar Wright had done some minor TV directing before Pegg and Stevenson approached him to helm their show, but it was Spaced that gave him the freedom to employ the cinematic style that would become his trademark in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. There are plenty of moments in Spaced that foreshadow both of those movies. The most obvious precursor to the Pegg-Wright feature films happens in season one, when a Resident Evil-obsessed Tim fights off a horde of zombies. As for Hot Fuzz-style action moments, there are too many to mention—though if you want to see one of the finest, check out the climactic "shoot out" in the fifth episode of season 2 (considered by many to be the series' best).
Of course, nothing I've written thus far is news to Spaced's loyal fan base, who really just want to know how awesome the long-awaited North American DVD release is. First, thanks for your patience. Second, it's awesome. Really, really awesome—so awesome, in fact, it almost makes up for the slim-to-none chance of ever getting a third season—and it's all due to perhaps the best collection of bonus materials included on any DVD, ever.
(Fair warning: If you're a fan who went out and bought a region-free DVD player so you could watch an import copy of the 2006 British box set, you've already seen most of the extras. Of course, if you're that obsessive about Spaced, you probably picked up the North American set on day one.)
The first two discs contain the series 1 and 2 episodes, with the same extras as those seasons' UK releases. Both seasons have outtakes, promo trailers, cast and crew biographies, and the original commentaries—recorded by the cast and Edgar Wright—for all 14 episodes. But the real excitement—and easily the most anticipated bonus feature in this American release—are a series of brand new commentaries featuring Wright, Pegg, Stevenson, and a group of fans who also happen to be some of the biggest geek names in Hollywood: Clerks director (and comic book aficionado) Kevin Smith, South Park co-creator Matt Stone, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody, comedians Patton Oswalt and Bill Hader, and indie prince Quentin Tarantino. Before you faint, not everyone is on every commentary. The basic set-up is that each guest gets two or three episodes with the Spaced gang (except for Oswalt and Hader, who go one-on-one with Wright).
While the original cast commentaries are straightforward nuts-and-bolts banter, the 2008 guest commentaries are free-for-all bull sessions. Pegg, Wright, and Stevenson join their guests in nearly six hours of mutual admiration society roundtable interviews/discussions about anything and everything—often having nothing to do with what's happening onscreen. Maybe they're not really "commentaries," but who cares? Listening in as talented film geeks trade stories, argue about and dissect old movies, and talk filmmaking shop is a real treat—icing on the digital cake for DVD first-timers, and enough reason for importers to consider a double dip.
As if the 18+ hours of content on the first two DVDs wasn't enough, the extras-only third disc piles on even more. There are additional outtakes and raw footage from both seasons, copious deleted scenes, up-to-date versions of the cast and crew biographies, the "Spaced Jam" music video, and a new-for-this-release hourlong 2007 onstage cast reunion Q&A (minus, sadly, Jessica Stevenson). The longest and best extra, though, is the hour-and-twenty-minute documentary "Skip to the End," recorded for the 2006 UK set. It's a mix of cast and crew interviews, footage, and behind-the-scenes tidbits—all wrapped around Wright, Pegg, and Stevenson returning to various shooting locations, including the Corrib Rest pub, the alley where the shoot-out was filmed, and the 23 Meteor Street house (still visited and photographed by fans). And for those curious about what might have been for Tim and Daisy, feel free to, well, skip to the end.
For a television program approaching its 10th anniversary, the audio/video presentation of Spaced: The Complete Series is exceptional. The anamorphic widescreen is the perfect way to enjoy every detail-packed moment. The worst thing I can say is that the first season looks a little soft. Similarly, the only thing "wrong" with the audio is that the memorable music (thankfully cleared for this North American release) and sound effects are limited to 2.0 stereo. Would the classic first-season rave sequence have been any better in 5.1 surround? I doubt it, but I wouldn't have minded finding out.
The packaging for Spaced: The Complete Series features brand new cover art, as well as Simon Bisley-inspired caricatures of the cast on the packaging, discs, and DVD menus. (I think they're all done by Jason Brashill, who did a lot of Tim's drawings for the show, but there's no credit given.)
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There's very little to complain about in a DVD set this comprehensive, dedicated to a series this brilliant, but I'll try:
As with any box set jammed with extras, there's bound to be some overlap. Between the documentary, Q&A, and two sets of commentaries, you'll hear the same stories a few times, but considering I've sat through DVDs with far more repetition across far fewer extras, it's not a big deal.
One of the coolest bonus features is the "Homage-O-Meter"—running text that plays out over each episode, explaining the hundreds of pop culture references, homages, and in-jokes. Unfortunately, it's also easy to overlook since it's tucked away as an option in the subtitles menu.
Although most fans (myself included) love the true-to-life feel of the show, Spaced features a lot more casual substance abuse and swearing than you'll find on most network TV—certainly in America. If that kind of thing bothers you, well, you should probably watch Spaced anyway, but I won't hold it against you if you don't.
I finished the last episode of Spaced Thursday morning before work and spent the rest of the day feeling mildly depressed. It's hard to describe, but if you've ever come to the end of a beloved TV series, you know what I mean. I felt this way after finishing Freaks and Geeks, and I felt it after the final episode of Arrested Development. Great shows are rare, and when you run out of episodes—when you realize you'll never find out what happens to characters you care about—well, that hurts. Spaced is one of those great shows, and as sad as I am that it's over, I'm also excited for the multitudes who haven't seen it yet. No more excuses, America. Not only is Spaced finally out on DVD here, it's available in one of the most comprehensive complete series box sets ever. Get it. Watch it. Love it. Then watch it again. That's what I'm going to do. In fact, I think I'll go do it right now. Excuse me…
Not Guilty! Pegg, Stevenson, and Wright are hereby released on the following conditions: 1) they continue to make brilliant movies and television; and 2) they become my best friends.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Commentary with Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes, Julia Deakin, Mark Heap, Nick Frost, producer Nira Park
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