Thursday, July 31, 2008

‘Shaun of the Dead’ team’s ‘Spaced’ hits DVD

It was like a near-death experience. I saw my life flash before my eyes. Except it was divided into 14 half-hour episodes, and everyone was British. Oh, and it wasn’t actually my life.

Before they achieved fame, fortune and international acclaim with their hit films “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” actor/writer Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright garnered a cult following with the TV series “Spaced,” which aired for two seasons on Britain’s Channel 4.

Now, finally, nearly a decade after it first aired, “Spaced” is available on DVD in the U.S.
Starring and written by Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, “Spaced” follows two twentysomething slackers who pretend to be a couple so they can rent an apartment advertised as for “professional couples only.”

But that’s not really what the show is about. If it were, it would be nothing more than the British version of “Three’s Company,” which is already just the American version of Britain’s “Man About the House.”

In fact, the whole “pretending to be a couple” thing comes up only twice as a major plot point, so forget I even mentioned it. Seriously.

Daisy (Stevenson) is an aspiring magazine writer who would rather do anything other than write. Her roommate Tim (Pegg) wants to draw comic books, but in the meantime he works in a store selling comic books.

Tim’s best friend is Mike, played by Nick Frost, who, at the risk of being typecast, also plays Pegg’s best friends in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” Mike wants more than anything to join the army. Unfortunately, he got kicked out for stealing a tank and trying to invade Paris.

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t need a tank to invade Paris. Just roll down the Champs-Elysées in a Volkswagen Beetle, and the French will surrender faster than you can say David Hasselhoff. But never mind that.

Daisy’s best friend is Twist (Katy Carmichael), who is either incredibly shallow or incredibly evil. Tim can’t decide which.

Tim and Daisy’s neighbor Brian (Mark Heap) is an artist who paints in bold strokes of anger, pain, fear and aggression. And their landlady, Marsha (Julia Deakin), is a chain-smoking alcoholic with a thing for Brian.

Although set in London, “Spaced” captures perfectly the American Generation X experience of arrested adolescence, underemployment and relationships forged by shared cultural experiences. It’s like that Winona Ryder movie “Reality Bites” except it doesn’t suck.

No, far from sucking, “Spaced” is simply brilliant. And it’s without a doubt the most fanboy-friendly sitcom ever made.

A year after breaking up with his girlfriend, Tim must deal with the end of an even more important relationship — the one he had with George Lucas:

“ ‘The Phantom Menace’ was 18 months ago, Tim!” says Tim’s boss, Bilbo (Bill Bailey).
“I know, Bilbo, but it still hurts!” Tim says. “That kid wanted a Jar Jar doll!”

Under Wright’s direction, “Spaced” creates a surreal, cinematic world, where a seemingly ordinary conversation can turn into a re-enactment of “Dawn of the Dead” and a paintball fight is a good excuse to reference “Platoon.”

“Spaced” is no ordinary sitcom. It’s a sitcom for a generation incapable of having a conversation without referencing popular movies or TV shows. You know, like a typical episode of “Family Guy.” In short, it’s for people like me.

But not to worry if you don’t know the difference between “Babylon 5” and “Deep Space Nine.” The new DVDs include a handy subtitle feature that explains all of the references.

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