British television is fashionable nowadays. Downton Abbey, Sherlock, and Doctor Who exemplify the latest trend in Trans-Atlantic entertainment. But before BBC America went gangbusters, there were several British comedies from the late 90s and early 00s that have since either created American spin-offs (The Office) or spawned solid film careers for British actors and writers. The latter is true for Simon Pegg, one of the creators and actors of the show Spaced. Not only has he endeared himself to American sci-fi fans as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise, but has also found success as director and star of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Spaced, Pegg’s first foray into creating a stand-alone series, seemingly set the standard for certain current trends in modern television sit-com culture: Oblique pop culture references, emphasis on snappy dialogue, and worship of all things Nerd. And in hindsight, it can be unfairly criticized for a lack of creativity if the history isn’t known. Allusions to such broad topics as video games, comic books, and Star Wars permeate the show. Of course, these things are now the status quo (see Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother et. al). But in a pre-9/11, pre-Star Wars Episode 1, pre-Matrix society? Not so much. Heck, Spaced's best remembered American contemporaries are Friends and Sex in the City.
For all my effusive praise, I must admit that I fell asleep for the first series and didn’t like it all that much. It was difficult to find something to tether myself to. As is the case with some British humor, it was difficult to find an in. The characters were a bit…purr snickety and difficult to like. Coupled with the British predilection for surrealism and absurdity and you’ve got one difficult show to get into. But the second season really took off and endeared itself to me. Featuring numerous references to Star Wars, The Matrix, and high nerdery in general, the second series was definitely more entertaining than the first and well worth the wait. Of particular note is Simon Pegg’s character’s rant in the opening of the first episode concerning Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace which actually ends up costing him his job.
Finally, one of the best features of this three disc set is a feature length “making-of” documentary that completes the picture of the series. Insightful, endearing, and somewhat magical, the documentary makes one want to watch the whole thing over again. Of course, talk of a third series (that’s how the Brits say ‘season’) was ever-present. Even an American version was considered but never made. Mostly due to the fact that Americans ruin British sit-coms. See the American version of the Office or read up on a failed Americanized version of the IT Crowd. All in all, Spaced may not stand the test of time very well, but it is quite funny and serves as a nice time capsule for a simpler, easier time.
The IT Crowd
The Mighty Boosh