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Growing Up Is Hard To Do: ‘Spaced’ and How Edgar Wright Blended Twentysomething Malaise With Genre Mashups

Growing Up Is Hard To Do: 'Spaced' and How Edgar Wright Blended Twentysomething Malaise With Genre Mashups

Editor’s Note: This is part five in a series of five articles looking at memorable depictions of coming of age on television — a favorite topic on the small screen, from “Leave It To Beaver” to “Pretty Little Liars.” It’s presented in partnership with Participant Media’s new network Pivot and its series “Please Like Me,” about a 20-year-old man (Josh Thomas) who still has a lot to figure out about identity, love and family. Catch all six episodes back-to-back at 8pm ET/7pm CT on Thursday, August 1.

American fans of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were left salivating for years until Summer 2008 when they finally got a proper DVD release of their first collaboration, “Spaced,” a near-perfect collection of 14 episodes that sowed the seeds of what was to come from the trio on the big screen.

It was worth the wait. The trifecta responsible for the brilliant, loving genre mashups “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” met and honed their particular brand of geekery on the show that lasted two series (as they say in the UK) from 1999 to 2001. Not unlike the creative team’s coming of age during the production of the show, the episodes tended to focus on a common trope in television and movies: mid 20s malaise and all the confusion/fear associated with becoming an adult. 

“Spaced” managed to stand on its own by bridging this familiar concept with the wonderful world of the genre mashup, which certainly wasn’t new by any means (Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith et al, have always done similar things), but felt fresh with Wright’s love of cinematic conventions, pop culture ephemera, camera trickery, fantasy and dream logic, as well as all of the creator’s reveling in a hyper kinetic formalism packed with references, whip pans and a desire to avoid the stuffiness of much British television.

The conceit of the show was also familiar. Platonic friends Daisy and Tim (series writers Jessica Hynes and Pegg) quickly met, got along and decided to lie about being a couple in order to get a good deal on a new flat. Most of the show’s humor comes from an embrace of the kind of situational comedy we’ve all come to recognize over the years, but often with a sly, knowing twist. Tim is an aspiring comic book artist. Daisy wants to be a writer. Their friends Mike (Frost) and Twist (Katy Carmichael) often appear in episodes, as does Brian (Mark Heap), an avant garde artist living in the basement, and Marsha (played with boozy, smoky British charm by Julia Deakin, from “Down Terrace”), the landlady who Tim and Daisy deceived but also befriended.

Within that framework (sort of like “Three’s Company” meets the “The Simpsons”), the team behind the show seemingly had carte blanche to veer off into weirder, drug-fueled, darker and often much funnier territory while retaining a sweetness and tension (the will-Tim-and-Daisy-fall-in-love element was always at play throughout) that belied its super geeky love of horror movies, science fiction, comic books, video games and so on.

One of the most memorable chapters of the show’s all too brief run is “Battles.” From season one, this fourth episode focuses on the end of Daisy’s relationship with Richard (James Lance) and her need to avoid more glaring responsibilities (like working and dealing with her issues) by getting a dog. This plot line crosscuts with Tim and Mike going paintballing. Before the imaginary warfare kicked off, Tim ran into Duane Benzie (Peter Serafinowicz, Pete from “Shaun of the Dead,” voice of Darth Maul), the arch-nemesis who stole his girlfriend.  

The episode starts off with a typically subversive fantasy sequence. Daisy, always imagining herself as a much more successful writer than she really is or may ever be, broke up with her boyfriend, telling him she won’t have time for him since she’s meeting new people and traveling for work. A brilliant pan/match cut blends the dialogue as we leave the fantasy — in fact, it was Richard who broke up with Daisy. Like most people her age, still maturing and figuring out how to deal with new challenges and stages of life, Daisy decided to mask her problems by giving herself something new to focus on. 

In walked Colin, an adorable little pup saved by Daisy and Twist in a shelter. Tim was hesitant to agree to a dog, as he had his own hilarious reasons for not wanting one in the apartment. We also learned that Tim was partially responsible for Daisy’s relationship ending. It was him that suggested she admit to her infidelities, all along masking a manipulative streak to get back at all women.

The paintball sequences are almost more fun than playing it yourself. This was the moment in the show where you could feel Wright, Pegg and Frost having a blast playing with all their favorite conventions (elements that would be further explored in “Hot Fuzz”) from the action movie genre. John Woo standoffs, bloody violence (all fake. of course, with yellow paint in place of the red stuff), double gun firing, quotes galore (“They aren’t in the jungle… they are the jungle”), all leading to a showdown between Duane and Tim that ended with Mike making a sacrifice.  

What “Spaced” did better than most shows of its ilk, beyond the super cool references and camerawork, was build characters and develop its themes organically from a place of truth. Just four episodes in at the point of “Battles,” we already have a firm grasp of who these people are and why they’re struggling to transition to adulthood. Tim still has deeply-rooted anger for all relationships after his ended so painfully, and his career struggles are partially the fault of a tough, competitive industry, but also his immaturity and his lack of anger management for people who don’t get his work. Daisy struggles to get work done, instead directing her attention on less important, frivolous pursuits. They are presented as real, complex, flesh and blood humans, making all the genre-bending wackiness easier to accept and enjoy.

It’s appropriate this episode begins with the words “It’s over.” “Battles” is a chapter dealing with the end of relationships for the two main characters in the show. But despite the age of its creators at the time — who were still working out their own careers and mid twenties struggles — this episode is mature enough to look at the doors that swing open when another closes. After all, the final words, uttered by Mike, are: “a storm is coming.” 

Indiewire has partnered with Pivot and its new series “Please Like Me.” (Binge-watch the whole season starting at 8pm ET/7pm CT on Thursday, August 1, with a total of six back-to-back episodes.) “Please Like Me” is a comedic-drama based on actual painfully awkward events from the life of 25-year-old, award-winning Australian comedian Josh Thomas. Watch the first episode here, as in the span of 24 hours, Josh is dumped by his girlfriend, realizes he may be gay and moves in with his mother, who has just attempted suicide. All of a sudden, it seems as though everyone’s life is in disarray and Josh is at the center of it all.

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