by Allan Fish
(UK 1999/2001 350m) DVD1/2
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p Nira Park, Gareth Edwards d Edgar Wright w Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson ph Andy Hollis ed Chris Dickens (and others)
Simon Pegg (Tim Bisley), Jessica Stevenson/Hynes (Daisy Steiner), Julia Deakin (Marsha Klein), Nick Frost (Mike Watt), Mark Heap (Brian Topp), Katy Carmichael (Twist Morgan), Lucy Akhurst (Sophie), Anna Wilson-Jones (Sarah), Peter Serafinowicz (Duane Benzie), Clive Russell (Damien Knox), Bill Bailey (Bilbo Bagshot), Michael Smiley (Tyres O’Flaherty), Reece Shearsmith (Dexter), Charles Dale (security guard), John Simm, Claire Rushbrook, Ricky Gervais, Mark Gatiss, Paul Kaye, David Walliams,
A long time ago – well, a few years ago – on a channel far, far away – well, Channel 4 – there was a tale told of two people… It seems appropriate to thus introduce one of the most truly unique sitcoms of recent memory. Here was a series that so revelled in spoofs and homages to other films, TV series, and other media that it even had a DVD release that featured a ‘homage-o-meter’ as an extra. Not only did it include these spoofs, but it paid respect to them, and even integrated them not just into the plot but into the visual texture of the episode. It was a comedy for the Empire and Q magazine generation, the Generation X who worshipped Star Wars, junk TV, comics, and general slackerdom but did something that the works of, say, Kevin Smith didn’t; made it oh so believable.
Daisy Steiner, a lazy wannabe journalist, is looking for a new flat to escape her current abode, a squat. At a local café, she meets Tim, who’s also looking for a place after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sarah, for another man. They see what seems to be the ideal place – rent of only £90 a week – but there’s one catch; it’s for a professional couple only. Hence they cook up a scheme to pretend to be a couple to get the flat at 23 Meteor Street, TufnellPark (the 23 perhaps a homage to the number of Tony Hancock’s house in East Cheam?). Into this mix, throw in a middle-aged lush of a landlady, Marsha, a mad army reject, Mike, Twist, a self-absorbed laundrette worker who says she works in fashion, and Brian, a nihilistic, moody, middle-aged artist who lives in the downstairs flat.
Undoubtedly Spaced is enhanced greatly by the fact that only two series were made, which prevented it outstaying its welcome, and also allowed it to end on a note that could hardly have been more appropriate. For all the quips and hilarious moments, there’s a tender sweetness in these characters and you come to care for them, even though they are such idle so and sos. How to describe the sequence where they rescue Colin the dog from an animal testing laboratory (with the help of a wonderfully against type Charles Dale) and Twist is allowed to take her make up bag (think about it), or of the sequence in a London rave, which may be the most accurate depiction of such a gathering seen on any form of screen, with Mike’s hilarious movements to the theme of The A Team. Or of Brian’s unconscious minimalist art piece, or the Fight Club pastiche of Robot Wars (“the second rule of Robot Club is…no smoking”). I could go on forever.
Numerous comedy talents soon to make it big appear briefly, with Bill Bailey’s comic book store owner a priceless gem (especially his story about the dog trained to attack rich people), and Smiley’s Tyres quite unforgettable as he lives his life like one never ending rave, dancing away to household noises like telephones and even, brilliantly, pedestrian traffic beepers. All the cast are a joy, with Pegg the loser everyman who so personified his generation – still hurting over The Phantom Menace 18 months later and praying not to God but a poster of Buffy on his wall. Frost is unforgettable as Mike, stealing every scene he’s in, a sort of loveable soft psychopath with a gun fetish, and Heap, Deakin and Carmichael are all irreplaceable. Top honours for me, though, to Stevenson, who makes Daisy so utterly endearing, despite her inherent annoyingness, very much one of the lads in a truly ingenious fake John Woo shoot-out in an alley which only has to be seen once to be never forgotten. Now, did you hear the one about how Mike commandeered a tank, tried to invade Paris and got caught on Magic Mountain?