I’m hardly the resident Anglophile here at Pop Modern, so it’s rare for me to seek out a British television show when the time comes to binge. Part of me, I think, is put off by how short-lived most series from across the pond tend to be, when I’m used to immersing myself in sitcoms and dramas that nearly straddle a decade. Hell, I’m still coping with the fact that Breaking Bad is stopping short at five seasons, and that’s already a lot of television. So you can imagine the mental block I experienced when I first saw Spaced scroll across my Netflix homepage. What finally tipped the scales and got me to sit down and watch the show was seeing The World’s End. You see, that movie was an incredible cinematic experience, and it put me in the mood for more Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright. To satiate that thirst, I went straight to the well, so to speak, to a cult favorite early project of theirs: Spaced.
The series stars (and is written by) Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes as Tim and Daisy, two twenty-something wannabe creative types living in London and posing as a couple to appease their drunken landlady. The series is directed by Edgar Wright, and also stars Nick Frost as one of the supporting cast: Tim’s military-obsessed best friend, Mike. I knew that this combination of people would produce a great series, but I was surprised by how upset I felt after those mere fourteen episodes were so quickly over.
Rather than bemoan what I can’t have, though, I’m going to focus on what I do have and try to communicate my appreciation for the unique voice of this show. I decided to focus on one of the later episodes of Series 2, “Gone,” for a few reasons that will soon become apparent. First off, the episode exhibits a level of narrative framing that most of the others don’t have. Namely, it begins in medias res with Tim and Daisy running down an alley, only to be stopped by a group of street punks intent on beating them up. We as the viewers have no clue what’s going on, and Tim and Daisy react by moving to pull out what we can only assume are guns when the episode transitions back to six hours beforehand.
That opening tinges this episode with a kind of gritty tension that meshes surprisingly well with its normal pop-culture-laden dialogue and absurdist humor. It speaks to the versatility of this show that it can transition from that grimy, frightening alley scene to a peaceful moment in Tim and Daisy’s flat, where Daisy is using some exotic oregano to cook a stew and Tim is trying on shirts for his big date with Sophie, a character introduced in the previous episode. The scene also speaks to the subtle, sophisticated aspects of this show’s comedy. In this few-minutes-long scene alone, I noticed at least two or three jokes that I didn’t the first time around, and I enjoyed the jokes I recognized the first time all the more. For instance, there’s a great bit of acting by Pegg when he answers the phone to talk to Sophie and his voice cracks, prompting him to make a shocked, disgusted face that only somebody like Pegg, with his slacker British charm, can pull off.
I didn’t pick this episode for the jokes, though. I wanted to focus on “Gone” because it showcases some brilliant, early manifestations of Edgar Wright’s unique directing style. As an example, when Sophie says she can’t go out, Daisy says that she and Tim should just go drinking, asking Tim what he would do otherwise. The audience is then treated to a long-exposure shot of Tim sitting in his beanbag chair playing Playstation all night as people flit in and out of the flat. Even better, though, is the part where Brian (their eccentric, painter neighbor) comes in and Tim and Mike rope him into an imaginary gun fight. It’s the kind of silly fake gun fight that elementary school kids have, with histrionic gestures and self-made noises, but it’s shot like a legitimate action sequence. It has the same frenetic, fast-cutting style of some of the best bits of Hot Fuzz or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, turning a mundane, silly activity into a visually enthralling piece of television.
The episode goes on to play with its visual style, as Daisy and Tim describe their respective desires for how the night will play out. Daisy’s are shown in snapshots, like scrap pictures in a photo album, whereas Tim’s are shown as sketches in a notebook, since he is an up-and-coming comic book illustrator. This is followed by a particularly clever transition shot, where Tim flips a coin to see whose plan will be followed, and the coin fans out into the coins that Tim has just slammed onto the table at the bar they end up going to. From that point forward, the direction grows zanier as the protagonists get drunker.
Slowly, we find out that the lead punk from the beginning of the episode ran into Tim in the bathroom and wanted to buy weed off of him, but Tim refused. We then see Daisy talking to Dwayne, a minor character who stole Tim’s last girlfriend, and who was shot in the balls with a paintball gun several episodes ago. It’s a good integration of this bit character, and he once again gets his just desserts by episode’s end. It’s soon revealed that Tim and Daisy were stopped by the punks outside the bar and forced to hand over their weed, but accidentally gave them Daisy’s oregano instead. This understandably pisses the kids off when they find out, explaining the situation that we found ourselves in at the beginning of this episode.
The climax plays out beautifully, with the scene that I so admired in the apartment paying off in a big way: Tim and Daisy were in fact reaching for guns like it seemed before the shot cut at the beginning, but fake guns. They have the episode’s second fake gun fight (once again directed like something straight out of a high-budget action flick) with the punks, and leave them lying “dead” in the street. It’s a hilarious moment, but it’s made all the more hilarious by the how seriously it’s taken with regards to the visuals. In the end, it’s the attention to detail that makes Spaced such a phenomenal show.
If there’s one gripe to have with this episode, it’s that the four supporting stars (Mike, Brian, the landlady Marsha, and Daisy’s fashion-obsessed best friend, Twist) are almost not used at all. Twist isn’t even in the episode, save for a disturbing cubist painting of her that Brian has in his apartment. And Marsha also gets little play, other than a flashback Daisy has of a conversation with her that fills in Marsha’s tragic backstory a little bit. Mike and Brian at least get an adventure of their own, wandering the night searching for Colin, Daisy’s dog, who escaped out the front door. As viewers, though, we really only see them leave and come back, so they don’t factor into the outcome of the plot. Despite this squandering of the supporting talent, this episode is bolstered by Tim and Daisy’s relationship, which is entertaining to watch and see hints of its development towards the end.
The credits roll over Tim, Daisy, Mike, and Brian spacing out on the couch, having unbeknownst to them consumed a serving of Daisy’s stew dosed with Tim’s weed rather than oregano. It’s a charming ending, and it’s emblematic of the show’s relaxed tone. Overall, “Gone” does a great job letting its leads shine and exhibiting the narrative and tonal flexibility of this show. Too bad it only had fourteen episode in which to flex.