Made In Britain is a weekly article in which Mark Newton, our resident Brit and Fish and Chips guzzler, selects one piece of British culture to showcase to his American cousins. Made In Britain is released every Tuesday.
This August 23rd sees the return of one of the most hilarious, and least prolific, comedy trios known to man. In the 9 years they've been working together on the big screen, they've only released two films — both of them timeless and incredibly rewatchable comedic masterclasses. In 2004 they turned the zombie apocalypse into something terrifying and laughable in equal measure, while in 2007 they brought the blockbuster police action movie to a sleepy English village. If you haven't guessed who I'm talking about by now (and you really should because I mention their names in the title AND there's a massive picture of them above) then you probably aren't the target audience of this article. May I suggest this funny cat GIF instead?
Of course, I'm talking about the Holy Comedic Trilogy of , and director . In August they'll be taking a funny look at alien invasions in The World's End, however this last movie of their self-titled 'Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy' is only the crowning glory of a long and illustrious career. Although they might be best known for their 2004 silver screen breakout Shaun of the Dead, the trio have also flushed cake down a toilet, taught zombie survival, commentated on flushing cake, and wrote and starred in one of the best British sitcoms of the last quarter of a century. This week in Made In Britain, we're going to have a look at the Pegg-Frost-Wright genesis in their cult-classic-pop-culture-homage-athon sitcom, Spaced.
Simon Pegg has long been a staple of British comedy and majorly broke out on the scene with the 1998 sketch show Big Train (which deserves it's own Made in Britain article). It wasn't long before Pegg, and his writing partner Jessica Hynes, was approaching Channel 4 to pen a new sitcom. The duo were paired with up-and-coming director Edgar Wright, while Pegg was adamant that the show HAD to star his best friend and former flatmate, Nick Frost. Despite some initial misgivings, Wright gave in to his demands and that day is now celebrated the world over by avid comedy fans.
Spaced became the quintessential cult comedy, it was mostly ignored by mainstream viewers when it hit screens in 1999, but it earned itself a legion of loyal fans, both in Britain and later in the US. Spaced tells the story of Tim and Daisy, two people who barely know each other and who conspire to act as a professional couple in order to meet the requisites for a cheap apartment in London. They are joined by Brian, the bizarre artist who works in a strange array of mediums, Mike (played by Frost) a jaded former-member of the Territorial Army (he was kicked out after stealing a tank and trying to invade Disney Land Paris) and Marsha, their chain smoking, chain drinking, chain swearing landlady.
At its core, Spaced is a sitcom about the generation of perpetual juveniles that emerged out of the end of the 21st century. Tim and Daisy should be living the prime of their lives, instead they find it easier to engorge themselves on popular culture, weed and slow-motion imaginary gun fights. Indeed, it was probably the personal familiarity of these themes which endeared it so many likewise 20-somethings.
While Pegg, Hynes and Frost bring all the requisite writing and acting hilarity, it just wouldn't be the same without Edgar Wright's kinetic and stylish direction. Spaced is full of trademark Wrightian whip pans, flashbacks, asides, and day dreams (this one being my personal favorite) which perfectly compliments the surreal and fast paced style of the writing. You can almost draw an exact line of lineage from the trio's big screen smash-hits all the back to that little cult comedy tucked away on Channel 4.
To say Spaced makes cultural references doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. Spaced is chock-a-block with homages, references, in-jokes and downright parodies of popular, usually American, culture. As director Edgar Wright explained: "Part of the charm of Spaced is it's people in north London acting out stuff from American films... you know, Hollywood in, kind of, suburbia." Whether it's Pulp Fiction, Fight Club or The Matrix, Spaced manages to subtly pack in countless pop-culture gags without turning the comedy into a cheap segue from one movie joke to another. Star Wars in particular certainly receives the most attention. Simon Pegg has always been proud of his unrequited love for the original Star Wars movies. A fact that certainly made an appearance in Spaced.
Despite its pop culture homages, Spaced never lost track of what's really important to the sitcom — the friendship between Tim, Daisy, Brian and Mike. Ultimately, these relationships form the heart of the show — and one relationship in particular takes precedent. No, I'm not talking about the will-they-won't-they thing between Tim and Daisy — the real relationship is between Tim and Mike. Spaced pioneered the bromance long before it was shot into the mainstream by the likes of and . You know when you saw Evan and Seth admitting their love for each other in Superbad? Did you kind of wish and were really like that in real life? Well, there’s no doubt when it comes to Pegg and Frost. They are.
Like many British sitcoms, Spaced only has two seasons of seven episodes each. This might seem like a tiny amount, but I would argue there is more hilarity packed into each 22 minute episode than an entire series of a generic sitcom. Spaced is an artisan product, lovingly crafted and refined to bring forth the purest laughs. I would say there isn't much like it on US television, however Community, Arrested Development and 30 Rock might be the closest comparisons. For a few terrifying years, there was talk of developing a US version of Spaced headed up by director McG. The project certainly didn't have the blessings of Pegg, Hynes or Wright, but a pilot was developed anyway. Luckily, the internet soon made sure it was buried under a heavy layer of vitriol, hatred and universal disdain.
Spaced is certainly not unheard of in the US. In fact, it has a special US specific DVD including commentaries featuring , and , while it is also available to stream on both Hulu and Netflix. With this in mind, you really have no excuse for not checking out at least one episode of this brilliant sitcom.
That's it for this week's Made in Britain. If you want to be kept up top date with future editions, either follow me on Twitter (@MarkMoviepilot) or hit the button in the top-right hand of the page.
Does this sound like your cup of tea? Do you love Pegg, Frost and Wright as much as I do? Have you already seen Spaced? Let me know all about it in the comments section below.
Check out some previous editions of Made in Britain: