One of my favorite films in recent years is Hot Fuzz, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who also were involved with another cult-favorite effort, Shaun of the Dead. Though I knew Hot Fuzz was a parody of high-octane Hollywood buddy cop films, because of my preconception of it as an English movie (and mind you, foreign movies are a fairly regular staple of my movie-going diet), I was nevertheless completely taken by surprise by how slick and sophisticated a production it was, as well as funny. Discovering brilliant gems like this is what makes movie-going so worthwhile.
Just released in a deluxe DVD package is the BBC television series Spaced, an early project on which Wright, Pegg and Frost first worked together. The series played for two seasons, for a total of 14 episodes, in 1999 and 2001, and was the brainchild of Wright, Pegg and fellow actor Jessica Hynes, who also stars in the show.
Pegg and Hymes play Tim and Daisy, two slacker types who meet in the first episode after each having just ended their respective relationships. Tim is a struggling comic-book artist and Daisy is a wannabe writer/journalist. In need of fresh starts, they find an affordable flat to rent together as roommates but only can do so by posing as couple. The core cast of characters—eccentrics all, in the best English tradition—includes their heavy-drinking divorcee landlady, Marsha; Mike, Tim’s best friend from childhood, who is obsessed with guns and playing army (played by Frost in his very first acting job); Twist, Daisy’s best friend, a fashion plate; and Brian, the tortured artist who rents another flat in the house.
The show is heavy on pop culture references and incredibly self-referential, containing homages and references as varied as the Star Wars films, the Shining (and all matter of horror films), the Matrix, Grease, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the A-Team, and the films of John Woo. Along with its hilarious quick cuts, fantasy sequences and flashbacks, you can clearly see the beginnings of the style that would evolve into Hot Fuzz. While much of the comedy are in the characters themselves, what also distinguishes the show's work is the way it uses the conventions of genre films and direct visual homages of pop culture to heighten and punctuate the humor. Much like a DVD Easter egg, these pop culture references add another layer of subtext and hilarity to the show.
Like Hot Fuzz though, the show’s comedy and heightened reality never predominate the show or the characters: the filmmakers and the actors clearly worked to create recognizable people and situations that audiences genuinely care about. Taking advantage of the truncated British television season format, the series creates a genuinely heartfelt story and character arc within the two 7-episode seasons—much of the tension of the show is built around the complex relationship between Tim and Daisy, and the question of whether or not their relationship will go to the next level. It’s a remarkably well-done balancing act the way that the show can simultaneously feel emotionally grounded yet veer into near-surreal moments as well.
The bottom line, however, is that the show is laugh-aloud funny, and flies its geek flag proudly.