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Spaced: The Complete Series (Not Comics)
posted January 18, 2009

imageCreators: Jessica Hynes, Simon Pegg
Publishing Information: DVD of Television Show, Two Seasons (14 episodes), BBC, 343 minutes, 1999/2008.
Ordering Numbers:

I'd almost forgotten that the DVD collection of the little-seen-by-US-audiences television series -- featuring a lot of nerd-reference humor (including comics) as well as early performances by the two creators in addition to director Edgar Wright and actor Nick Frost -- was out now. Fortunately, the invisible serving-up that is a title moving off the long-wait portion of a friend's Netflix queue and into the active send-to part put it into my hands for a few days of intermittent viewing. It's a sweet show: the characters are broken enough and thus so unequipped to deal with the outside world they're able to be mostly kind to one another without sacrificing conflict within the narrative. It's them against everything, and whatever victories they win are modest ones. One show simply ends in the characters dancing and getting out of their own heads for a while; it's hard to imagine any series in the US doing something like that in exactly that way and having it be endearing rather than obnoxious. To my mind, the biggest difference between Spaced and most American TV shows is that they let the female lead be funny without feeling the need to protect her or build her back up in some artificial, intrusive way. Most of the characters are openly vulnerable, and the best moments of comedy come from kicking them when they're down -- not extremely hard, and they're allowed to get back up, but still.

It's also striking how hit and miss some of the geek-informed comedy seems to be a decade after its initial broadcast. For instance, a minor gag about a comic shop owner that assaults people for insulting Hawk The Slayer seemed far funnier to me than a labored Matrix parody that dominated one episode. It may be that a man irrationally punching people is funny on its own, and the fact that he does it in defense of a terrible movie of the kind that people like that tend to champion simply adds another, pitch-perfect level to the madness. In contrast, the Matrix stuff depends more fully on your recognition and enjoyment of the source material -- the fact that it's being done, not necessarily what's done with it. It also occurred to me that 1999 or thereabouts may have been a sweet spot for pop culture reference humor that's long gone. That was a time there were still things to remember that had widespread penetration to the degree that a large enough group of people recognizes the element being parodied, while those that invest that stuff with importance seem a bit sweet and dim doing so at age 28 in a way they might not in their late 30s. The series is split in two, it seems, by the disappointment of the Phantom Menace film, which one might argue provided a critical blow to an entire generation's ability to live in certain elements of their childhood far past the expiration date.