Spaced–DVD Review

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Academic finals are a chore, and people get through them however they can. For study breaks, some may walk, others go to the gym and lift weights. Me? I stayed in my apartment and, when not studying, binged through both seasons of a cult British sitcom in two days last weekend.

For those of you who may have not heard of it, Spaced, which aired two seasons from 1999-2001 on ITV in Britain (although the international DVD release was done by BBC Video), was the breakthrough for star and co-creator Simon Pegg, supporting star Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright, who went on to make the insanely terrific “Three Flavours Cornetto” trilogy.  Way back at Grand Rapids Comic-Con in October, I found the complete series boxset for $5 and I finally delved into it, watching each season (of 7 episodes each) on Friday and Saturday respectively.

The first episode gives us all the setup: It’s 1999 in North London. Tim Bisley (Pegg), an aspiring comic book artist and comic shop employee, has just been dumped by his girlfriend of five years and kicked out of their house. Moping in a small cafe, he meets Daisy Steiner (series co-creator Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson)), a young aspiring writer just getting out of a similar situation. Finding a listing for a flat in the newspaper, and noting that it’s for “professional couples only,” they pretend to be a couple in order to convince the wino landlady, Martha (Julia Deakin), to sell to them. They pull it off and settle in, having a variety of bizarre adventures with Marsha, downstairs neighbor and bizarro repressed artist Brian (Mark Heap), Daisy’s best friend, fashionista Twist (Katy Carmichael) and Tim’s best friend, the gung-ho military nut Mike (Nick Frost).

That’s the setup but what enfolds is something unique altogether. Part of the appeal of the movies Pegg, Frost and Wright have made is that they all come off as effortless; even though there’s an enormous amount of plot mechanics at work, you never see the gears. Everything just washes over you. Spaced is much the same, only more so due to the decompressed nature of television. The overall feel is like watching a great British stoner comedy, spread out over fourteen episodes of great gags, excellent one-liners, innovative, stylistic direction by Wright and a great comedic ensemble that gells together perfectly, culminating in one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen.

Pegg is an absolute winner as always, making Tim the blueprint of the lovable slacker, but Hynes nee Stevenson proves every bit his equal, being unafraid to show Daisy as unsympathetic or as goofs. The rest of the cast are all terrific and while it’s bizarre to see how thin Frost was back then, he manages to be overly physical as the deranged Mike and it’s great to see.

As I said, Wright is amazing here. He incorporates all sorts of tricks from films and music videos that must have been mind-blowing back in the day and are still thrilling here. Anyone who doubts his skill will be floored here.

The whole show is on Netflix, and it is worth checking out. The DVD also has a whole bunch of special features which I haven’t watched yet, but I plan to. Check this show out; you won’t be disappointed.

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