Spaced Series 2 review

From the TWU Archive Pods, part 2 of this 2004 appreciation of Spaced. Words- Sean Alexander. Episode 1: Back 
In which Daisy returns from Asia to find changes at homeand 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 creativityand 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 committedto 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 Cuckoos 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.  Meanwhile, Daisy’s recent calamitous efforts to hold down a job see her enter a full-blown Cuckoos 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 heroand 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.
Meanwhile, 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 Daisys 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 havent 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.

1 comment:

  1. I did enjoy the 2nd series too. It is how I will always remember Simon Pegg! Though I think he did fantastic as Scotty, he really made it hiw own :-D