Review for Spaced (Definitive Collector`s Edition) (UK)
I’m coming at this ass-backwards again. I never really appreciated the talents of Simon Pegg, even though I did pick up the Star Trek reboots, and then the Mission Impossible movies. I then decided to give the comedy Paul a try, when really I should have gone straight for the Cornetto trilogy. And then I realised that I had never seen Spaced, the sitcom where it all began, a creative collaboration that gave us three of the best British film comedies of the 2000s. It’s at this point I thought I should turn in my geek membership card, as it turns out that Spaced is probably the first truly geek sitcom, predating The Big Bang Theory by over a decade, and packing more subtlety and wit into its first scene than BBT could manage in its entire 3000 year run. It felt like 3000 years, or was it just me? The problem is that Spaced is now over 20 years old, and any geek references within will have dated. On the bright side, there won’t be too many comic book movie references! I found the collector’s edition release, which comes with a bonus extras disc; all three discs in a digipack wrapped in Star Wars inspired artwork.
Tim Bisley is an aspiring comic book artist who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Sarah. Daisy Steiner is an aspiring writer who has had to leave her squat. The two meet in a cafe looking for flats in the local newspapers. Weeks later, with nothing affordable to rent, they spot one ad in the classified for a flat, but for couples only. They’ll have to fake being in a relationship to dupe the eccentric landlady Marsha. Even more eccentric is the artist Brian living in the basement flat. Daisy’s best friend Twist thinks she’s a fashionista, while Tim’s best friend Mike loves guns in a bad way. Spaced follows these twenty-something lives across two seasons, fourteen episodes in total.
Series 1 (Disc 1)
1. Beginnings (commentary with Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson & Edgar Wright)
2. Gatherings (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Julia Deakin)
3. Art (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Mark Heap)
4. Battles (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Nick Frost)
5. Chaos (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Mark Heap)
6. Epiphanies (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Mark Heap and Nick Frost)
7. Ends (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Nira Park)
Series 2 (Disc 2)
1. Back (commentary with Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson & Edgar Wright)
2. Change (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Julia Deakin)
3. Mettle (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Nick Frost)
4. Help (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Mark Heap)
5. Gone (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson & Wright)
6. Dissolution ((commentary with Pegg, Stevenson, Wright & Katy Carmichael and Mark Heap)
7. Leaves (commentary with Pegg, Stevenson & Wright)
Spaced gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer on these discs, and quite frankly it’s not good especially on Season 1. 171 minutes on disc 1, two audio tracks, and 40 minutes of extras do not go. It’s bad enough that Spaced has a hazy filtered over-exposed look to it, while it’s directed more like a feature film than a standard sitcom, but there’s not enough room on a dual layer DVD to do it justice. It’s over compressed and worse, it’s subject to ghosting throughout. Pressing pause during the end credits will give you an idea of how bad it is. Season 2 on disc 2 isn’t quite as obviously compressed, but it’s still not great for clarity. The seven episodes in each season should have got double the disc space. Then again, when this show was released on DVD, we were watching them on small CRT TVs, not 50 inch UHD flat panels.
Spaced gets a DD 2.0 English track with both seasons, with optional English subtitles. The all important dialogue is clear throughout, and the show makes use of plenty of popular music and some unexpected film soundtracks as well. It must have been a licensing nightmare, but I don’t think any music replacements were mandated.
You get three discs in a digipack, the two series discs and a bonus extras disc. The digipack and the sleeve art make much of the comic book art that goes with Spaced, and all of this is packed in a thin card slipcase.
All episodes get commentaries as listed above. There is also a Homage-o-meter, a subtitle track which flashes up all the pop culture media references as they happen in the episodes.
The Season 1 disc has the following extras in addition.
There are text biographies for the Characters, Cast and Crew.
There are 3:09 of Trailers.
There are 9:22 of Outtakes, and 4:52 of More Outtakes.
There are 14:55 of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary.
There is 7:24 of Raw Footage.
The extras on the Season 2 disc are the following.
Trailers x7 (4:34)
Deleted Scenes x18 with optional commentary (17:56)
8 Text Biographies for the characters and the creators.
Raw Footage (6:31)
Daisy Does Elvis (1:01)
Disc 3 has the following...
Cast and Crew Biographies ‘UPDATED’ (for 2004)
‘Spaced Jam’ by Osymyso – 3:26 music video.
The substantial bit here is the Exclusive Feature Length Documentary ‘Skip to the End’, a detailed making of with contributions from the cast and the director. This lasts 80:53.
It’s worth noting that the US release of Spaced got US celebrity fan commentaries on the episodes as well as the cast commentaries, so go Region 1 if you want those.
Now I understand why I was so late onto the Cornetto-verse bandwagon. I obviously don’t remember it, but I must have seen an episode or two of Spaced when it was originally broadcast, and it had enough of a negative impact on me, that I must have made a mental note to subsequently steer clear of anything with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jessica Stevenson, or Edgar Wright involved. Taking the time to watch Spaced through right from the beginning this time, took me a on a journey of discovery, beginning with the same cold response that I must have had back in 1999. This time, the show did start to grow on me, I began to engage with the characters, and I’ll even admit to enjoying the episodes, particularly the later ones. But I have to say that I just didn’t think Spaced was that funny. I found it to be an intellectually humorous show, which once in a while elevated enough to actually make me laugh out loud, but for a purported sitcom, it just didn’t make me laugh enough. It has that knowing sense of humour that seems exclusive to members already in the club...
Having watched Spaced in its entirety now, I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the show. I had a good time watching it, and was entertained, but I don’t see the cult fascination for its 14 episode run. It takes an established sitcom genre, the friends in a flat, sat on a sofa thing, and overlays it with lashings of pop culture, gives it a cinematic approach that is certainly striking, but not really groundbreaking. It’s nowhere as subversive with the sitcom genre as say something like 15 Storeys High. Also, with 20 years of hindsight, it’s easy to see Spaced as the last gasp of 90s lad culture, a more surrealist take on a show like Game On. In that respect, it feels more dated in a way than it really should. I would have probably found it tired when it was broadcast, had I watched it then.
Tim and Daisy have to pretend to be a couple to get a cheap flat to rent when both wind up homeless. Daisy’s a procrastinating writer, and Tim’s an aspiring comic book artist and full-time geek. His best friend Mike loves guns and warfare, and got thrown out of the Territorial Army for stealing a tank. Daisy’s best friend is Twist, an exercise in superficiality. Their landlady is Marsha, an odd bohemian woman who lives with her ungrateful daughter Amber in the flat upstairs, while Brian is the weird artist who lives in the basement flat. And the show really isn’t about the constant battle to prevent Marsha from finding out the truth about their faux-relationship. It’s about plenty of other things though, with each episode taking a story point or two, and stretching them to their surreal extent.
One thing I do appreciate about Spaced is its direction. The show gets a cinematic style which belies its sitcom heritage, making for a far more immersive and realistic feel. The show never seems stage bound, even though it was shot on studio sets for many of its scenes. I’m also not too keen on the pop culture references, which given that they are in the show’s DNA, the way it defines its characters and how they see the world, would be a sticking point for any viewer trying to understand the show. It’s just that I feel the way that its various homages hit me in the face is unsubtle and obvious to the point of painful. I am only grateful that this show was made before the advent of the tentpole Marvel movie, or it could have been completely unbearable. At least the obvious movie and TV and videogame references are varied and distinctive, and at least the writing is good enough that if you don’t happen to catch a reference, it doesn’t impact the story.
I think the biggest thing holding me back from clicking with Spaced was that I just didn’t buy into any of the characters. You can tell in the extras that the idea was to approach the story with a degree of emotional realism, to reflect the lives of many of the then twenty-somethings in British society, but for me that emotional realism was completely undone by the surrealism and absurdities in the stories themselves. I just didn’t invest in any of the characters. I suppose that given another chance, I might start seeing the big deal about Spaced, but given that the show established itself as a cult favourite as it was being broadcast, I’m sceptical that a second viewing would make much difference.
Still, it was entertaining while it lasted, and even if I was never on the floor wheezing with laughter at any point, Spaced just about gave me enough in the way of belly laughs per episode to make it worth spending a tenner on this collection. I’d have felt disappointed at spending more though, even if it is a stonking collection for fans. The packaging is really nice, with some gorgeous character art, and while the DVDs probably didn’t look great when they were released, and look even worse now on modern flat panel TVs, you do get an excellent selection of bonus material.