Edgar Wright is one of the most inventive, joyfully creative and stylistically unique filmmakers of his generation. His specialty lies in the way he deftly employs a self-aware parody approach that skewers genre cliches while giddily exploiting the same genres with impressive technical precision. Meanwhile, he uses this over the top narrative approach to essentially tell stories about everyday people going through everyday problems. Thus, the audience gets a relatable character study and an off-the-wall genre exercise/spoof in one glorious package.
His “Cornetto Trilogy” co-written with his star Simon Pegg expertly employs this formula to create three of the best comedies of the 21st century so far. In Shaun of The Dead, a hapless loser’s attempts to get his ex-girlfriend back turns into a George A. Romero-style zombie survival flick. Hot Fuzz turns a Father Ted-type benign rural English comedy into a batshit crazy Michael Bay actioner, complete with super quick cuts and buttloads of gunfire. The World’s End tells the sad story of an alcoholic who struggles to relive his glory days, only to pit him and his buddies against a “Body Snatchers”style alien invasion plot. On the non“Cornetto” side, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World uses video game aesthetics to construct a quirky teen romance. His latest, Baby Driver, is more of a straight genre exercise, a “one last job” heist movie mixed with young love romance. This time around, his genre subversion stems from the technical execution, as he edits set pieces to the beats of the music that the protagonist listens to on his iPod, imbuing an ingrained musical aesthetic to the action genre.
Before Wright and Pegg made a splash with the Cornetto Trilogy, though, they made a name for themselves with Spaced, a zany single camera sitcom about two London twentysomethings, the aloof comic book nerd Tim (Pegg) and flaky freelance journalist Daisy (Jessica Hynes), pretending to be a couple so they can rent a flat from alcoholic cougar Marsha (Julia Deakin). Their pretentious yet wildly insecure artist neighbor Brian (Mark Heap), Tim’s military-obsessed yet warm-hearted BFF Mike (Pegg’s Cornetto Trilogy co-star Nick Frost), and Daisy’s ditzy bestie Twist (Katy Carmicheal), round out the cast. The show ran for two seasons between 1999 and 2001 on UK’s Channel 4. Pegg and Hynes created the show, as well as writing all 14 episodes, while Wright directed them, thus ensuring a cohesive vision across the entire series. Just like he did with his feature output, Wright used his favorite high-octane genre cliches to construct what’s ostensibly a low-key character-based comedy. So let’s get our comics and paintball guns ready, put on our Darth Vader helmets, and go through every episode of “Spaced”, from the worst (as disappointing as this overall great show could be) to the best:
14. “Epiphanies” – Season 1, Episode 6:
Maybe it’s because I can’t stand EDM, but this episode sticks out as particularly annoying. It also has the most flimsy overarching plot, as it focuses on Brian’s phobia against clubbing, stemming from a bad experience he had in 1983. This conflict can’t carry the episode, and is hurriedly resolved without Pegg and Hynes’ usual wit. As much as I love Michael Smiley as a character actor (Just check him out in Ben Wheatley’s films), his turn as Tyres, an EDM-obsessed bike courier who can turn any random noise into sick techno beats, is one of the rare missteps of the show.
13. “Gatherings” – Season 1, Episode 2:
This episode suffers from a typical sophomore slump: The pilot sets up the characters, now it’s time to come up with an excuse to get them all together. Pegg and Hynes go around this by having Daisy throw a housewarming party. It’s a bit of a meandering and unfocused entry that doesn’t really develop much on the pilot. That being said, Wright making Tim and Mike’s awe-struck entry into the neighbor girl’s much better party look like Richard Dreyfuss entering the spaceship in Close Encounters of the Third Kind creates one of the funniest moments of the show.
12. “Dissolution” – Season 2, Episode 6:
It’s understandable for Hynes and Pegg to ramp up some conflict between Tim and Daisy as we near the end of the show, but the way they try to create a tense love triangle by awkwardly inserting Pegg’s comic book artist girlfriend Sophie (Lucy Akhurst) into the mix is too little, too late. If Sophie had time to develop more as a character, it could have been a fair fight, but it’s hard to imagine any member of the audience taking her side over Daisy. The bright spots on this episode are Wright’s playful references to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Bugsy Malone<.i>.
11. “Beginnings” – Season 1 Episode 1:
“Beginnings” is an efficient pilot episode: It quickly sets up the quirky characters and the main premise, while establishing the manic, pop culture reference-heavy tone of the show. But just like any other standard pilot, we know that it will take a couple more episodes for the series to find its groove. The “Three’s Company”-level premise, concerning Tim and Daisy lying about being a couple to secure Marsha’s flat, is a bit stale. Thankfully, Pegg and Hynes don’t focus much on it during later episodes. Wright employing a spy thriller aesthetic to Tim and Daisy rehearsing their fake couple back-story showcases his unique style early on.
10. “Art” – Season 1, Episode 3:
“Art” is a special episode in the way that it works as a trial run for Shaun of the Dead, as Tim begins to hallucinate about shooting down hordes of zombies after playing Resident Evil for too long. This episode focuses a bit too much on Brian, who comes across as a pretentious artist caricature rather than the subversion of said caricature, which comes later on as he’s revealed to be more insecure and meek than he lets on. The main plot revolves around Brian’s rivalry with a fellow artist, a literally colorful eccentric named Vulva (Little Britain’s David Walliams).
9. “Help” – Season 2, Episode 4:
Pegg and Hynes come up with yet another fairly typical sitcom conflict as Daisy accidentally places an offensive drawing into Tim’s portfolio, forcing Tim and Mike to chase after Tyres in order to stop the package from being delivered to a major comic book studio. Wright manages to transcend the episode’s fairly flatline script with a go-for-broke action style that foreshadows numerous moments in Hot Fuzz and Baby Driver, as Tim and Mike’s run against the clock is delivered with Wright’s trademark quick match cutting and bombastic use of sound effects.
8. “Ends” – Season 1, Episode 7:
The building sexual tension between Tim and Daisy reaches its apex in this Season One finale, only to gently lead into a rather sweet and unassuming ending. Daisy’s jealous of Tim’s ex after she hints that she wants to get back together with Tim. This prompts Mike to deliver a hilariously and uncharacteristically insightful monologue to Daisy about the nature of her relationship with Tim. The way Wright intercuts Tim and Daisy’s heated argument with gameplay footage from Tekken is an episode highlight.
7. “Back” – Season 2, Episode 1:
Between the first and second seasons of “Spaced”, a lot of important pop-culture events transpired: The Matrix and Fight Club defined the switch between the 90s and 00s, and The Phantom Menace proved that intense hype doesn’t always result in quality. So it’s no surprise that the second season opens with a reference-heavy episode: Two agents inspired by The Matrix follow Daisy after a casual mix-up at the airport, while Tim gives a voice to millions of disappointed nerds as he’s still traumatized by the The Phantom Menace and Jar Jar Binks. What would Tim say if he knew that Pegg would eventually go on to appear in Star Trek?
6. “Leaves” – Season 2, Episode 7:
“Spaced” ends with a heartfelt episode that ties everything into a neat little bow, as each character is pretty much where they were at the beginning, but the show makes it a point that they are richer because of their friendship. Some fans might be disappointed that the Tim and Daisy romance isn’t resolved in a more clear cut fashion, but Hynes, Pegg and Wright know that the show was mostly about the little moments between these immediately relatable characters, and not necessarily the plot machinations that surrounded them.
5. “Change” – Season 2, Episode 2:
Tim’s PTSD regarding The Phantom Menace comes to the foreground in this “cathartic for Star Wars fans” episode, as he’s fired from his job at the comic book store after attacking a kid for liking Jar Jar. While Tim tries to find new employment, Spaced creates one of its most ingenious running gags, gradually revealing a secret society made up of Phantom Menace haters who support each other in subtle ways. In 2001, us SW nerds needed this episode in order to make our peace with George Lucas’ cinematic abomination.
4. “Gone” – Season 2, Episode 5:
Plotwise, this episode is a bit unfocused, but it also contains some of the best gags in the show. The chief of these stem from Tim’s theory that all men are telepathically connected to instinctively instigate a slow-motion mock shootout scene when the mood calls for it. It’s not surprising to see Tim and Mike engage each other with imaginary guns and grenades, but the joke switches to a hilarious new level as the otherwise artsy-fartsy Brian joins in the “fight” as he’s unable to resist his “manly” urges. This bit also gets a brilliant callback at the end.
3. “Battles” – Season 1, Episode 4:
This episode revolves around a game of paintball, so of course Wright is going to use an entire arsenal of war and action movie cliches to depict the epic battle between Tim and a cocky rival (Peter Serafinowicz) who stole his girlfriend. Wright mostly focuses on World War II movie tropes during the bulk of the episode, only to deliver a kinetic John Woo-inspired melodramatic action finale. This episode also solidifies Nick Frost as a comedic force to be reckoned with.
2. “Chaos” – Season 1, Episode 5:
Tim and Daisy’s beloved dog Colin is kidnapped by a nefarious animal testing lab, forcing the gang to infiltrate the facility in order to rescue the poor pooch. It should come with little surprise that Wright uses this plot as a jumping off point to create his own mini heist movie. If you want to see the one episode that could be seen as a precursor to Baby Driver, “Chaos” is the one. Extra points for the expert use of the bank robbery music from Michael Mann’s Heat.
1. “Mettle” – Season 2, Episode 3:
“Mettle” stands out above all other episodes for deftly creating two terrific spoofs that intercut seamlessly with each other. The A story revolves around Tim and Mike struggling to repair their sweet battle bot for the fight of its life, which gives Wright carte blanche to put his own unique spin on Robocop. Meanwhile, Daisy finds herself having to find any form of employment, leading to an ingenious parody of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest as she’s trapped in a dead-end job at a restaurant. The equally chilling and funny revelation that everyone who works at the restaurant is a writer like Daisy creates the most memorable moment of the show.