Up-words - "You laaacky people!"
Up-words- The Best of the Paper Issues of This way up 2002-10
“You lacchhky people!”by Sean Alexander
You are if you ever discovered the joys of late-nineties comedy Spaced. These days, it seems hardly a month goes by without the nation being canvassed for their votes on something or other, be it best ever novel, poem or Briton. Most recently Auntie Beeb, in her infinite wisdom, charged the great British public with the impossible task of choosing the Best Ever Sitcom. From a shortlist of 100, ten of the most familiar - and, at times, surprisingly popular - comedies of the past thirty years were chosen for special praise by such TV alumni as Johnny Vaughan and David Dickinson. To add to this almost surreal retro-viewpoint, the list of final contenders contained only one sitcom to begin broadcast during the nineties. So, was this evidence that the great British sitcom simply couldn’t hack it any more?
Well no, not really. Indeed, British TV comedy experienced something of a renaissance in that very period. Reeves and Mortimer, Alan Partridge and The League of Gentleman have all left a rich legacy for future historians to analyse and deconstruct in years to come. But arguably even the overwhelming success of ‘modern’ sitcom The Office papers over today’s comedies’ credentials for inheriting the classic sitcom mantle. Because the nineties were when sitcoms grew up, becoming more comedy drama than broad situational farces. The evidence of The Vicar of Dibley’s sole inclusion underlines this. While comedy, by nature, has always run a fine line between the funny and the sad, modern shows like Little Britain and Nighty Night are continuing the nineties trend for tragic comedy. So, if sitcoms now eschew the cheery for the solemn, is it any wonder that the BBC’s final countdown had a depressingly familiar look to it?
However, there was one sitcom made in the past five years that did uphold the cosy traditions of halcyon days. With a twist. It depicted an eclectic group of friends and their struggles to find happiness and meaning in an increasingly hostile world. But it added a post-modern, pop-culturally obsessive and occasionally surreal style to its familiar template. Its name? Spaced. And, somewhat surprisingly, it came nowhere near the BBC’s top 100 countdown.
Spaced ran on Channel 4 for two series between 1999 and 2001. Written by comedians Simon Pegg (previously best known for the slightly dark and twisted sketch show Big Train) and Jessica Stevenson (hitherto the downtrodden - and eternally weight-conscious - Cheryl in The Royle Family) it tells the story of twenty-somethings Tim Bisley and Daisy Steiner’s attempts to find purpose and fulfillment in the occasionally scary world of pre-Millennium North London. Posing as a ‘professional’ couple, they are joined in their illicit co-habitation by a variety of colourful housemates. There is their landlady, Marsha, a woman for whom the pursuit of the opposite sex is matched only by her capacity for a bottle of red or three. Downstairs is tortured artist Brian, forever carrying the pain - and the paint - of his endeavours on his sinewy torso. Elsewhere, Mike is Tim’s gun-loving, ex-territorial army best friend, as likely to bring some small arms to any house party as any beverage. While Daisy’s best friend, Twist - with her lisping voice and day-glo ensembles - is as terminally vacuous as she is self-absorbed.
So far, so familiar, you may say. But Spaced - like all great art - is about so much more than its constituent parts. For a start, there is the touchingly real relationship that develops between Tim and Daisy: despite their growing attachment, and need, for each other, theirs is a love that need not speak its name. Then there’s the ensemble playing of the rest of the regular cast. Nick Frost as Tim’s best friend Mike brings a real sense of loyalty and heroism to what could have easily become a one-note cliché. While Julia Deakin’s Marsha is often an observational sage amidst the twenty-something angst around her. Mark Heap as Brian is alternately manic and cuddly by degree, while - a million miles away from her later Corry-turn as florist Lucy - Katy Carmichael rescues even Twist’s self-obsessed personality with believability and sympathy.
Oh, and have I mentioned the film and television references too numerous to mention? Part of the reason Spaced was the first sitcom of the new century was that, despite its clichéd format, it acknowledged the television heritage that preceded it. And the stylistic flourishes - notably the common use of fast zooms and jump cuts - embedded in each episode recall the post-modern boom of the early nineties.
But the best way to appreciate Spaced is, of course, to experience it. So saddle up…and come get some!
Series 1, Episode 1: Beginnings
In which twenty-somethings Tim Bisley and Daisy Steiner pose as a professional couple to solve their mutual housing problems.
Spaced’s premiere episode starts the series as it means to go on. It’s fast-paced, witty and not averse to bending the rules of narrative for dramatic effect. It is also characteristically interspersed with copious in-jokes and homages for any watching pop-culture obsessive. What the episode achieves best is the effortless establishment of its premise and the diverse characters within. Tim and Daisy’s chance meeting and subsequent easy relationship sets the tone for much of what is to follow, while the onslaught of film and TV references begins straight from the start. Of these, the use of The King and I’s ‘Getting to know you’ and the episode’s undisguised rip-off of rom-com Green card for its plot are the most effective.
Of the supporting cast Mark Heap’s Brian makes a particularly bizarre first impression. His montage of artistic subjects - anger, pain, fear and aggression - are a high point of this series as a whole, while the ‘renting downstairs’ joke is an undisputed classic. Meanwhile, Marsha’s amorous and booze-ridden personality marks her out as the ‘pseudo-Rigsby’ of this particular domestic scenario. And, by episode’s end, the cumulative effect is to give the feeling of a family unit already developing around the characters - despite the fact that Nick Frost’s Mike barely makes an appearance.
First appearances/mentions: Dark Star comics; Fantasy Bazaar and its proprietor, Bilbo; Tim’s ex. Sarah…and new man Duane; Amber, Marsha’s daughter; Daisy’s boyfriend Richard.
Best bit: The shot of Tim and Daisy - clearly imagining themselves as the cool Fred and Daphne from Scooby-Doo - actually looking the spit of Shaggy and Velma.
Episode 2: Gatherings
In which Tim and Daisy unpack, get on each other’s nerves and decide to have a housewarming party.
Second episodes - like second albums - can be tricky things. And Spaced is no different. The episode starts slowly - only building a head of steam with the house party - while some rather uncharacteristic griping between the principals mars the chemistry established in episode one. Naturally, the homages continue to come thick and fast: most successful are Daisy’s Misery-esque writing spurt, the 2001 fridge and a couple of great Close Encounters visual gags.
On the character front, Marsha seems to have a bit of a thing for Brian, while Daisy’s friend Twist is introduced…and proves to be a classic case of vacuous self-absorption. And we finally get to meet - properly - Tim’s best friend Mike Watts, who endears himself immediately by bringing a land mine to the party as an ice-breaker. But Mike is so good-natured as to make even this action seem characteristically warm-hearted.
The party setting does allow for some acidic condemnation of trendy-type social mores. And it gives us the first hint of one of Spaced’s underlying concerns: that you’re simply never as cool as you think you are. The mainly 1980s soundtrack helps reinforce Daisy and Tim’s feelings of ostracisation from the ‘real world’, while Marsha’s daughter Amber’s own ‘alternative’ party offers the flatmates a much needed cultural escape route at the end. An episode that picks up markedly in its second half, laying down the roots of the show’s later preference for surrealism.
First appearances/mentions: Daisy’s writing; Marsha’s thing for Brian; Twist; the ‘cushion chucking’ joke; everyone - except Marsha - knowing Tim and Daisy aren’t a couple; Tim and Mike’s childhood tragedy.
Best bit: Tim and Daisy’s post-coital fag after unpacking.
Episode 3: Art
In which Daisy gets a job interview, Brian an invitation…and Tim spends far too much time playing video games.
Spaced hits its stride with this marvellous collision of fantasy and harsh reality. The episode also showcases one of the show’s other underlying themes: the facing of personal demons. That this all takes place within what appears to be a zombie film only adds to the stylistic tone. It contains two great scenes: Daisy’s painfully realistic nightmare job interview (her zoning out to the theme from The Magic Roundabout is priceless) and Brian’s second great montage scene as he tortuously prepares to reacquaint himself with former working partner Vulva. The episode also has a great supporting cast, notably David Walliams’ grotesque - and strangely Boy George-like - turn as Vulva. His ‘expressionistic’ show inspired by Hoovers is one of the show’s most macabre moments and - as with the previous episode’s diatribe on trendy music - allows the writers to rip the shit out of contemporary theatre.
Also look out for ‘Dennis Pennis’ himself Paul Kaye as Vulva’s equally warped co-star.
Brian’s demon-busting encounter with his former guru is echoed by Tim’s literal descent into zombie unreality. From the opening scene ‘Art’ is a marvellous pastiche of the ‘survival horror’ video games embodied most infamously by Resident Evil 2. That the episode climaxes with a full-on zombie film re-enactment only provides ample proof that Simon Pegg was scripting Shaun of the Dead for a very long time. Disturbing, yet strangely touching, ‘Art’ is a shining highlight of series one.
First appearances/mentions: zombies; Vulva; Brian standing up for himself.
Quote/Unquote: ‘It’s a subtle blend of lateral thinking and extreme violence’ (Tim eulogises on the joys of survival horror videogames).
Best bit: Brian’s flashback to his collaborations with Vulva: a mixture of expressionistic terror and Bergman imagery. And some very silly costumes.
Episode 4: Battles
In which Daisy responds to more rejection with a dog, and Tim buries some demons with a paint gun.
If anything endears people to us more than anything else, it’s bravery against insurmountable odds. It’s a truism that Spaced learns early on, and in ‘Battles’ the show achieves its first heroic culmination of these ideals. Daisy is dumped by the off-screen Richard - having, typically, fantasised it is her doing the dumping first - and through a combination of faux-pas and inspiration decides to heal her emotional scars with…a dog. Meanwhile, Tim looks forward to a day of mindless violence away from his Playstation by paint-balling with Mike. However, what Tim doesn’t expect is to come up against his nemesis - and love rival - Duane Benzie: tall, smooth…and Tim’s ex Sarah’s new beau. Will he be a man or a mouse? And has he got the (paint) balls to find closure on his former life?
‘Battles’ is the episode where the big boys get to play with some big toys. And it’s evident that Pegg, Frost and Peter Serafinowicz (as Duane) have a ‘ball’ running around like soldiers and shooting each other with paint. For an episode with a militaristic bent, Mike inevitably comes into his own…and even gets to play the hero when saving his best friend from his ‘sworn’ enemy. Serafinowicz’s Duane is a marvellously arch bad guy, and the knowledge he was one of the redeeming elements of The Phantom Menace (as the voice of Darth Maul) only adds to the fan-wank element of this episode.
Meanwhile, Daisy’s attempts to get a dog - aided, if that’s the word, by Twist - add a more farcical tone to proceedings. And the resultant pooch Colin, as played by Ada the dog, is surely contender for the best dog actor of all time. Brian even gets to join in on the ‘demons from the past’ reminiscing of the other characters; his hilariously graphic account of former dog Pompom’s brutal end adding a typically visceral note to his character.
Throw in humorous hints to Tim and Mike’s latent homosexuality (they hold hands and Mike even admits to fancying Tim) and a monologue on the joys of making Lara Croft drown, and you have another outstanding episode.
First appearances/mentions: Tim’s ‘canine phobia’; Colin the Dog; Duane Benzie other than in flashback.
Best bit: Brian literally becoming his art in a tribute to ‘the self-reflexivity of Rembrandt’. Or, as Tim puts it, ‘Brian, you’ve got some paint on you’.
Episode 5: Chaos
In which Colin gets dog-napped and Tim and Daisy launch a rescue bid with the aid of Luke, Chewie and Jabba.
When Spaced series one was being made, the world was waiting with baited breath for possibly the most anticipated film event ever. And, as already noted, the show already had one connection to The Phantom Menace in Peter Serafinowicz’s Duane Benzie. As a self-confessed acolyte of the original trilogy, ‘Chaos’ is Simon Pegg’s love poem to George Lucas’ series. And on the evidence here, it is little surprise that Lucasfilm gave their blessing to Spaced’s pastiche. Basically, Colin the dog goes missing and the others hatch a plan to rescue him. And that’s it. But as the series’ most simply plotted episode, ‘Chaos’ rewards through the sheer love and respect it shows for its pop-culture inspirations. And the shining light of this pastiche is the Star Wars-inspired laboratory raid - disco Imperial march, throwaway quotes and Reservoir Dogs-style code names and all. The episode also cements what we, the viewer, already know: that Tim loves Daisy, and is willing to overcome his animosity to all things - even her dog - to make her happy. And, inevitably, he become our hero as a result. The increasing sense of family among the characters means even Brian - who is fast becoming the show’s most likeable oddball - is absorbed into the clan. And his referencing of chaos theory as an explanation for all events fits the show’s scattergun unreality perfectly - while at the same time providing a novel explanation for how the Empire fell.
This is a real tour-de-force episode, with even Marsha - despite being given little to do - perfectly encapsulating her character’s calm and nonchalant observation of all things through a cloud of smoke and a glass of red. Charles Dale also impresses in his guest role as the laboratory security guard - while his gun-talk bonding with Mike provides a farcical juxtaposition to the episode’s otherwise frenetic pace. ‘Chaos’ reinforces Spaced’s cool credentials while at the same time providing thrilling, heart-warming entertainment into the bargain. And there’s even a superb American Werewolf gag to top it all off.
First appearances/mentions: The inside of ‘Fantasy Bazaar’ and its proprietor Bilbo in real time; excessive Star Wars referencing.
Best bit: Tim’s unashamed emotion as he finishes watching Return of the Jedi for the umpteenth time.
Episode 6: Epiphanies
In which motor-mouth raver Tyres leads our dispirited flatmates into the promised land.
Perhaps the hardest thing about growing out of your first flush of youth is realising that you’re not quite as cool as you thought you once were. And ‘Epiphanies’ sort of sums up that feeling. Where ‘Gatherings’ had dipped its toe into the whole ‘no longer young’ fear at the heart of all mid-twentysomethings, here Spaced jumps in with both feet. And as a result produces the best episode of series one. But it’s not all perfect. In fact, the build up to the grandstanding club scene which occupies the second half is slow, even dull at times. But the episode receives its adrenalin rush in the shape of Michael Smiley’s Tyres, a - literally - raving madman. His arrival jolts the housemates - and, by extension, the episode - out of its uncharacteristic funk. While it’s not all doom and gloom until his arrival - Brian’s ‘Come on Eileen’ nightmare and Tim & Daisy’s Grange Hill analyses are both great - the club scene’s sheer energy and pulsating soundtrack mark a serious upturn in the episode’s enjoyment factor. In fact, I challenge anyone watching to not want to go down the nearest club straight afterwards!
The episode - appropriately - is another epiphany for the constantly entertaining Brian, as yet more demons are quashed and his relationship with Twist takes a further, well, twist. He also contributes the most mind-bending comedic moment with his departure into the hitherto unexplored dimension of ‘penis art’. And it is very much Brian’s episode in many ways, as he most perfectly encapsulates the theme of fear and awkwardness in the face of generational change. If there was one moment when Spaced became the coolest, most life-affirming comedy-drama around it is in the club scene. With brilliant choreography, spot on freeze-frame captions (‘Brian Can’t’ being the best) and a genuinely tender scene as Tim and Daisy review their relationship, ‘Epiphanies’ greatest achievement is in reminding the viewer of the joys - and the heartbreaks - of youthful enthusiasm. And as a reassuring reminder that even the most awkward and ordinary of people can be cool for one night.
First appearances/mentions: the incredible Tyres, probably Spaced’s most unsung hero; the £20 joke; oh, and keep an eye on the end credits.
Best bit: the whole of the club scene: one of those few times when viewer enjoyment becomes mixed with the fun being had by the cast.
Episode 7: Ends
In which Mike faces his re-evaluation…and Sarah’s return threatens the family unit.
Just as an opening episode of a series should set the scene - introducing the characters and the format to enable some ‘familiarity’ for later episodes - so a final episode should resolve certain issues established in the premiere. And in ‘Ends’ Spaced completes its first run in such satisfying style. The return of Tim’s ex provides not just a complication to the - albeit, platonic - relationship between Tim and Daisy, but also a threat to the show’s very format of cosy domesticity established over the previous six episodes. Running alongside the main plot are two other threads, one developing, the other resolving. Brian and Twist go on their first date to a suitably unusual - but, somehow, totally appropriate - avant-garde exhibition, which allows the show to once more have a less than concealed dig at trendy contemporary art. Meanwhile, Mike - his childhood secret with Tim being finally revealed as an accident for which Tim blames himself - goes before the re-evaluation board to rejoin the Territorial army following the ‘Paris’ incident of 1994. This is one of the funniest elements of what is largely a downbeat and introspective episode; Mike’s responses to the ink-blot tests of the review board being particularly hilarious. And the Office and a Gentleman-inspired celebration afterwards is both touching and probably as camp as series one gets.
Other standout points are the incredibly clever mirroring of Tim and Daisy’s argument with the martial-art moves of Street Fighter (which Daisy wins with a pixelated flourish) and the twin montages of Tim and Brian’s joy at achieving success with women. The episode - and the series - ends with an acknowledgment of the maturity both it and the characters have reached over the previous seven episodes. And the fact that Tim calls Daisy immediately after breaking up with Sarah again signals how attached this most unconventional of couples have become; a couple ultimately drawn together by their mutual directionless and fear of having to grow up in the real world. And the final scenes of Tim and Daisy dancing to ‘Is you is..?’ are as apt an ending as you could wish for.
First appearances/mentions: the skateboard accident video; Daisy’s desire to go to Asia and visit the Taj Mahal.
Quote/Unquote: ‘Life just isn’t like the movies’ (Tim’s moment of clarity reinforces Spaced’s growing sense of maturity…while providing a metaphor for the series as a whole.
Best bit: Brian’s hilariously inept, but endearing, montage of joy; deliberately mirroring Tim’s much cooler attempt earlier in the episode.
Series 2, Episode 1: Back
In which Daisy returns from Asia to find changes at home…and the interest of two familiar ‘agents’.
Between series one and two of Spaced, an important cultural change took place. A generation of fans raised on the original Star Wars trilogy had - like Simon Pegg himself - seen The Phantom Menace and decided, once and all, that George Lucas was just a great fake who’d got lucky three times. Actually, two great cultural changes had taken place: The Matrix, released the same summer as The Phantom Menace, had become the most successful and influential piece of pop-culture since Star Wars. So into this cultural miasma arrives the second series of Spaced. And it’s hard not to dissociate these changes in nerd culture from the resultant opening half-hour of the show’s sophomore year. There’s no denying it’s back with a bang: refreshed, revitalised and freshly engorged by the ever-expanding media landscape on which its original success was hewn. Spaced no longer just makes do with cannibalising every film and TV show going; it now has its own cultural heritage to draw on. Not bad for a show only one year old!
What’s so good about ‘Back’ is how easily it slips into the old routine - with even a voice-over refreshing for first-time viewers - without seeming staid as a result. Into this is mixed a poignant discourse on the fear and isolation of losing touch with one’s domestic familiarity. Daisy, absent for six months, returns to a world familiar yet strange on her return from the far east, not least of which is her replacement in Tim’s immediate sphere by new flatmate Mike. That the episode ends with things - largely - back to normal is as much a relief to the watching viewer as it is to Daisy herself.
‘Back’ also marks a new watermark in the show’s cultural status, reflected by the calibre of supporting cast it is now attracting. John Simm - best known up to then for BBC drama The Lakes (and now one of this country’s bright young things) - makes a mutely significant cameo as the customs-dodging Steven Edwards. While, not for the first time this series, one of the League of Gentlemen stalwarts Mark Gatiss appears; he and fellow ‘agent’ Kevin Eldon (like Mark Heap, one of Simon Pegg’s Big Train comrades) trying to outdo one another in the inevitable Matrix spoof. This raising of the bar demonstrates how significant an impact Spaced’s first series made. And how - irony of ironies - it too has crossed the line from television show into pop-culture event.
The episode, in true Tarantino homage, contains one of the most tightly-written plots seen in the series. While, coincidentally, its Pulp Fiction parody is one of the cleverest homages attempted during the entire show. There’s yet another brilliant Brian montage, this time of his flourishing - and rather graphic - relationship with Twist, while even Marsha gets an unusually fair share of the action, literally saving the day. For an episode very much about transition, it is heartening to see ‘Back’ end on a notes of cosy familiarity. Oh, and anyone who still thinks Jessica Stevenson doesn’t look hot will change their minds on seeing her tanned and be-shorted on her return from Asia…
First appearances/mentions: Robot Wars; the housemates indulging in WWF-style play-acting.
Familiar things: well, everyone, obviously. Also the neat reference to Daisy’s articles from ‘Ends’ being published (including ‘Bogling: the new Tango?’) and the skateboard accidents video.
Best bit: Tim’s flashback to the cathartic burning of his Star Wars collection, in the style of Luke burning Vader’s corpse at the end of Return of the Jedi
Trivia: ‘Back’ apparently takes place ‘about’ a year since Daisy and Tim moved in together. However, as it is also 18-months since The Phantom Menace was released (May 1999) this means that Tim would have had to see TPM during series one. Which he plainly didn’t…
Episode 2: Change
In which Tim loses his job, Brian his creativity…and Daisy her claim for benefit.
Despite the ‘settled’ feeling at the conclusion of ‘Back’, ‘Change’ once more finds the housemates - in true Spaced style - struggling with their place in society. Following an altercation with a Ja-Ja Binks-seeking child, Tim gets his cards from ‘Fantasy Bazaar’. Meanwhile, both Daisy and Brian are seeking release from creative constipation; indeed Brian’s very state of new-found contentment is in fact stifling his characteristic ability to turn angst into art. And it is only Marsha’s timely intervention, once again, that gives him back his pain. ‘Change’ is very much an episode about losing one’s purpose in life, no matter how mundane or trivial that purpose may be (Tim is even literally replaced at ’Fantasy Bazaar’ with a ‘clone’ of himself, as if to emphasise the point).
Opening with a fantastic Bagpuss reference, the episode has a classic dilemma-solution structure, even giving a hint - resolved later in ’Help’ - to Tim’s underlying fear of failure. Daisy’s own sense of ennui gives rise to a thought-provoking monologue on the relationship between writers and the world they observe. This only underlines her own inability to fit into the ‘real’ world - be it relationships, work or anything else - as a fundamental aspect of her character. And - by extension - the inability of all the show’s mismatched odd-balls and weirdoes to fit in, except with one another. Amidst an episode reeking with the failure of ordinary lives, Marsha once more rises sage-like to the rescue. Her curing of Brian’s happiness-induced creative block by questioning his ability to recognise what’s good for him is at once brutal and deeply touching. In very few series could a stripping away of someone’s self belief be viewed as therapeutic, let alone in what is purportedly a sitcom. Brian also has a - by now - customarily glorious montage as he recounts his own attempts to escape creative funk. But, sadly for him, ‘Change’ ultimately signals the spiritual end of his awkward romance with Twist, because for Brian happiness is pure anathema to his artistic soul.
The episode is also a thinly-veiled attack on the unsympathetic attitudes of the welfare system, and particularly of civil servants blinded by unending bureaucracy. A somewhat lighter aspect of this is Tim’s hilarious bonding with the benefits clerk over the merits of the, by now, familiar bugbear The Phantom Menace. While ending on a note of optimism, Daisy’s seemingly futile attempts to hold down a proper job leaves ‘Change’ with a slightly sour note. This is not the heart-warming comedy-drama we have come to expect of Spaced, but it does provide an important set-up for later episodes to capitalise on.
First appearances/mentions: Damien Knox at Dark Star comics (although we don’t really know this at the time); Brian’s mum (at least in voiceover); Marsha’s thing for Mike; Derek and the ‘Silent Reading’ comic shop.
Familiar things: Bilbo and ‘Fantasy Bazaar’; reference to twiglets making Tim violent; the cushion-throwing joke (again); the ‘joy’ montage from ‘Ends’, this time with Tim and Bilbo (and Simon Pegg’s mum, uncredited).
Best bit: Tim’s sniffling and heartbroken call on Bilbo’s answering machine, begging him to take him back.
Trivia: Note Simon Pegg’s Dawn of the Dead t-shirt at the beginning: an early clue to later projects.
Quote/Unquote: ‘Contentment is the enemy of invention’ (Marsha)
Episode 3: Mettle
In which Tim and Mike go to war, Daisy gets committed…to her job, and Brian makes an exhibition of himself.
First off, fans of Robot Wars will love ‘Mettle’. But other - more sane - viewers will still thoroughly enjoy this affectionate homage to Fight Club and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s another episode confronting the regulars with their own battles against seemingly insurmountable odds. And speaking of ‘Battles’, the end result is effectively a retread of that series one classic; as Tim and Mike face off another ‘nemesis’ in the shape of the second League of Gentleman star to make a cameo this year, Reece Shearsmith. Seeing as it is largely a Robot Wars pastiche, the episode begins with a superb Robocop parody with ‘Private Iron’s unveiling. Villain of the week Shearsmith gives a great turn as the caddish Biggles-clone Dexter (his robot‘s name, ’War Bastard’, says it all, really) while as in ‘Battles, the cast have far too much fun playing with their big toys.
Daisy’s recent calamitous efforts to hold down a job see her enter a full-blown Cuckoo’s Nest spoof, replete with domineering ‘matron’ Tina and a supporting cast of fellow frustrated artisans. This plot strand does have the saving grace of reassuring Daisy that she isn’t the only creative person in the world forced to do menial jobs. And the climactic uprising of her fellow colleagues provides one of the great grandstanding moments of this series. As for Brian, his creative block has ceded to full-scale exhibitionism, as he is given the opportunity to show at the Rheinhart gallery. That he overcomes his self doubt and proves a positive triumph is more down to painful luck than any creative revelation. But Mark Heap’s lightness of touch in depicting this tortured, awkward poet gives Brian’s triumph an added sense of satisfaction. And the accidental result of his exhibition’s success does give the show yet another chance to have a dig at its bete-noire of trendy art.
All in all, another great episode with some touching moments of character development for all the principals and everything is tied up neatly at the end with the three storylines ’converging’ in the pub. ‘Mettle’ is all about small victories in the war of life, and as a metaphor for the series as a whole I can’t think of a better example. Whether I like Robot Wars or not.
First appearances/mentions: Marty Berghaus & the Rheinhart gallery; Tim & Mike’s ‘Robot nemesis’ Dexter.
Familiar things: Daisy attempting to hold down yet another job; big boys and big toys; Damien Knox, but not the full deal…yet; references to Tim & Mike’s latent homosexual feelings.
Best bit: Tim and Daisy’s heavy double-entendre conversation about the robot…and its big chopper.
Trivia: Listen out for the mention of ‘Bigtrack’, the 70s children’s toy that - supposedly - was used as a basis for NASA’s own robot on the space shuttle. Yeah, right!
Episode 4: Help
In which Daisy and Marsha take up jogging, Brian puts on a suit and becomes a hero…and Tim gets both a job offer and a date in the same day.
One of the standby plots of pretty much any sitcom is the ‘race against time’, where characters usually try to prevent themselves digging deep, embarrassing holes for themselves. And Spaced is happily no exception. In ‘Help’ this takes the form of Daisy’s good-natured attempts to help Tim with his job interview at the fabled Dark Star comics. That she does so by including his caricature of Dark Star supremo Damien Knox quoting ‘I am a huge wanker’ amongst his portfolio does, however, somewhat negate her good intentions. And so Tim and Mike set off to put right what Daisy once put wrong. And Daisy consoles herself with some competitive keep fit with the suddenly health-conscious Marsha.
The first thing to say about ‘Help’ is that it sees the return of Michael Smiley’s magnificent serial-raver Tyres. And the second thing to say is that he is once again bloody brilliant. As the sole unashamedly cool character in the whole series, Tyres is a stark contrast to the other awkward oddballs we know and love. Yet he is also perhaps the most honest and truthful character of all. And despite lacking the grandstanding impact of his debut in ‘Epiphanies’, Tyres nevertheless has some great moments. Not least of which are his motor-mouthed subterfuge with Dark Star’s security guard - spot the Taxi Driver homage, everyone - and the closing shot of him ‘getting down’ to the ‘pedestrian crossing mega-mix‘. ‘Help’ is, sadly, Tyres’ second and final appearance in Spaced, but it is fair to say that - in his case - less is certainly more.
Daisy takes solace from her gross faux-pas - and her continuing metaphysical ennui - by joining Marsha in a lycra-wearing contest. This results in her remembrance of a particularly painful episode from her schooldays, as healthy competition gave way to violent conflict. That this all takes place within a superb recreation of Grange Hill’s original - and iconic - opening titles only enhances the comedic effect. Brian is likewise forced to confront his past - and his judicial background - by a visit from his mother, leading to the revelation that his descent into abstract despair was as a result of witnessing pet Pompom’s messy demise (as referred to in ‘Battles’) Happily, the cathartic nature of ‘Help’ - and, arguably, Spaced as a whole - means that redemption is never far away, and Brian gets to play the hero by episode’s end. Of course, everything gets resolved - this is Spaced after all - and everyone reconvenes in the family unit in true sitcom tradition. But not without changes: Tim has a girlfriend now. And the repercussions of that will be seen throughout the rest of the series.
First appearances/mentions: Sophie (that family-splitting harlot, her!); Damien Knox (in the flesh at last) and the inside of Dark Star comics; Brian in a suit.
Familiar things: Tyres (Yaaaaay!) and his ‘drop-of-a-hat’ raving technique; the £20 joke; Brian’s mum (aw, bless!); Brian’s anger/pain/fear/aggression montage (Yaaaaay again!)
Best bit: A toss-up between the Sixth Sense spoof - with the added kudos of getting Olivia Williams from the real thing - and Mike’s glorious fantasy of storming Dark Star in full Matrix-style leather coat and Neo sunglasses.
Trivia: Why do the cars ignore the pedestrian crossing as Tyres raves away to its beeping (or is this deliberate?).
Episode 5: Gone
In which Duane Benzie returns, while Tim and Daisy definitely don’t go on a date. Definitely.
Okay, this is simply the best episode of series two. Great homages - John Woo-style screen violence, Jurassic Park and The Shining are all spot-on - a convoluted, but water-proof, plot and Tim and Daisy very nearly kissing. All that’s missing is, well, nothing really. It’s one of those episodes that TV shows and films are so fond of these days, where the action starts half-way through and then we go back to see how the characters get to that point. It’s another more than literal tip of the hat to the Tarantino school of film-making, but here its dramatic effect more than outweighs its use for purely name-dropping reasons. It’s also an important episode in that most unusual of romances between Tim and Daisy. They even get to go on a date together - although neither admit as such, of course - and their night out provides some truly memorable moments. Take the fantastic pub scene, with the two of them getting increasingly shit-faced on tequila slammers, or the tender way they skirt their feelings for one another by telling each other how wonderful they are. For advocates of Tim and Daisy finally getting it together - you know who you are - ‘Gone’ is beautiful proof of how, sometimes, the greatest love need not always be spoken. And that near kiss at the end will leave a lump in your throat.
Of course, there’s the usual Spaced convolutions to un-knot until we get to that point, as various obstacles confront the two housemates on their night out. First there’s the welcome return of husky-voiced nemesis Duane Benzie - replete with Phantom Menace in-jokes and all. His return - and apparent interest in Daisy - finally seems to stir Tim’s feelings for her. Then there’s the gang of youths, whose leader Tim manages to offend in the toilets with nothing more than an affectionate Kia-ora joke. While referencing another of the show’s thematic touchstones - that of youth being cooler and stronger than you - the set-to with the youths produces one of Spaced’s truly ‘shiver down the spine’ moments as we zoom in on Tim and Daisy prior to their brutally hilarious Hong Kong-inspired face-off. The resultant ‘bloodbath’ would be heart-breaking were it not so funny. Oh, and did I mention there’s another brilliant pair of montages as Tim and Daisy each describe their idea of a perfect night out - allowing for another dig at trendy contemporary art. Simply, Spaced just doesn’t get any better than this.
First appearances/mentions: Tim and Mike’s ‘telepathic’ sense for violent play-acting; Daisy’s upcoming birthday.
Familiar things: Tim plays Resident Evil (the original this time); Tim and Mike’s ‘Hong Kong style’ fighting is reminiscent of their WWF antics from ‘Back’; Duane Benzie (with flashbacks to ‘Battles’).
Best bit: the wonderfully choreographed ’pretend’ carnage, both between Tim and Mike (and Brian, whose child-like reaction is priceless) and when Tim & Daisy confront the youths. The soundtrack for this episode is also one of the best of the series.
Trivia: The ‘Oz Haulage’ truck onto which Duane throws Tim’s house-keys is also in the first shot of the episode.
Quote/Unquote: ‘At last I will have revenge’ (Duane Maul).
Episode 6: Dissolution
In which Daisy’s birthday is a catalyst for some plain speaking by all the housemates as Marsha finally learns the truth…
‘Dissolution’ opens with perhaps Spaced’s most well-observed and apt homage. Not only is Brian’s Omen-style revelation of the housemates’ fractured relationships a great visual gag, but it encapsulates the tone of the episode as a whole. For ‘Dissolution’ is all about omens and impending doom - and signals the seemingly inevitable break-up of the Spaced family. In an episode as much about co-incidence as fate, two plot elements converge to leave the housemates in their eventual fractious state. One is Marsha’s twigging that Tim and Sophie are more than just work colleagues. Her conclusion - and subsequent confrontation of Tim - leads only to Tim himself assuming that she means the surprise birthday cake he has got for Daisy. It’s a stand-by sitcom plot - characters grabbing the ‘wrong end of the stick’ - but to Spaced’s credit its use here avoids the pitfalls of other shows’ more farcical nature.
The other element is Daisy’s birthday party. On which note, if you haven’t already fallen in love with Jessica Stevenson at least a little bit, you surely will when she glides into the restaurant to the strains of Lisa Stansfield’s All Woman. With emotions running high amongst all the characters, the point arrives where Spaced crosses the line from knowing comedy to full-blooded drama. And despite the slapstick food-fight, the knowledge that certain things have been said which can’t be retracted gives the scene a gravitas mostly lacking up to now. Given the climactic tone of ‘Dissolution’ - aided, not least, by its doom-laden soundtrack - it is fitting that we end on a cliff-hanger worthy of the subject it parodies. In an episode largely about growing up and facing one’s responsibilities, it is appropriate that - like its protagonists - Spaced reaches its own zenith of maturity right here.
First appearances/mentions: the Colwyn Bay Gazette; Marsha finally finding out the truth that Daisy and Tim aren’t a couple.
Familiar things: Mike’s latent homosexual feelings for Tim (check out the menacing looks he gives Sophie); Daisy’s mum (in voice only); Daisy’s neglect of Colin (see ‘Leaves’); Daisy writing (or, at least, thinking about it); Twist (having been absent for the last few episodes); Marsha mentions Tim & Daisy’s ‘two’ anniversaries (see ‘Beginnings’).
Best bit: After an episode in which Spaced’s family for the new millennium are ripped apart, you’d be hard pushed to end on an uplifting moment. But the gorgeous Empire Strikes Back love poem - replete with soaring John Williams soundtrack - that closes the episode will simply leave grown men in tears…
Trivia: look out for Ricky Gervais - playing a prototype David Brent - as the telephonist indirectly responsible for the show’s set-up.
Quote/Unquote: ‘We’ve gotta pull together, or else we’ll lose everything’ (Daisy talks tough).
Episode 7: Leaves
In which the housemates come up with ‘something bloody spectacular’ to make up to Marsha, and Mike gets to drive a tank again.
I could just try and write the best review of ‘Leaves’ that I could, and hope it explained why I love it - and Spaced - so much. But I still wouldn’t come close to capturing what makes this final episode the perfect end to the most witty, touching and downright relevant sitcom ever (or, at least, until The Office came along and blew everything out of the water). So, I’ll just let the episode speak for itself.
1. The inspired Royle Family opening, with painstaking attention to detail.
2. The scene with the estate agent showing the eager, young house-hunters around 23 Meteor Street - a deliberate mirror to ‘Beginnings’, and a sure sign of Spaced’s self-assuredness in parodying itself. It even reinforces the show’s original theme: that we’re no longer as young as we think we are.
3. Brian’s tape ‘The Sounds of Despair, Volume 4’ and the best bit of comic timing in the whole series as he turns the tape over.
4. Amber and Marsha’s role reversal.
5. Mike saving the day. Twice.
6. Brian’s embarrassed wave to Marsha from the tank.
7. And, last but hardly least, the magnificent closing scenes, showing our beloved housemates for the final time; closure for some, new beginnings for others.
i) Mike sharing the joys of rifle assembly with Marsha.
ii) Brian’s proud look to Twist as she sees his tribute to her.
iii) And Tim, Daisy and Colin’s simple pleasure in sharing their home - and their lives - as the door closes on them.
Okay, it’s not the most perfect of episodes - the departure of Sophie is a little too convenient, while the tone does come worryingly close to Richard Curtis rom-com fare at times - but as a culmination to seven of the best hours of television ever produced, ‘Leaves’ will leave no-one without a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat.
‘Something bloody spectacular’ indeed!
(And for the record) First appearance/mentions: the sinister - and unnamed - little old lady next door.
Familiar things: Amber; Dexter and his clan of privates; Mike seeing Tim as more than just a friend (especially when he wears a thong).
Quote/Unquote: ‘They say the family of the twenty-first century is made up of friends, not relatives’ (Daisy/Tim). And in saying so capture Spaced in a nutshell.