I think it was Grant Morrison who said that after the British empire fell apart, the British began to take over the world in a different way, namely by becoming the cutting edge leaders in art and culture. During the '60s, British rock groups were both popular and artistically phenomenal, from the Beatles to Pink Floyd to Led Zeppelin and so on. Mod culture spread across the globe.
In the '80s, the British invaded America in another medium, namely comics. Alan Moore completely redefined what comics could do, and Grant Morrison followed up, and even surpassed the pioneer. Now, most of the top writers in the comics industry are British, and by and large they do the best work.
So, the British own the comics, but what about comedy? Obviously there was Monty Python and other '60s groups, but recent British sitcoms have been putting our own to shame. Spaced is, on the surface, a standard sitcom premise — Tim and Daisy pretend to be in a relationship so they can get a deal on a flat, then have to deal with living together and trying to keep up the façade to fool their landlady. While the premise is basic, it’s in the execution that the series soars.
The prime attraction of the show for most viewers will be stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. They rose to fame, along with series director Edgar Wright, for their affectionate genre parodies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead, but didn't think much of Hot Fuzz, and I think this series is stronger than either of the films that followed. If you enjoyed those movies, you'll probably really enjoy this series.
The show is a comedy, but it's shot in a really interesting way, very feature-like. A big part of the show is paying homage to films, and this leads to a lot of highly stylized and expressive shots. The show, despite being about two people living in a house, feels very exciting, just because of the way it's made. One notable sequence is one in which Tim and Daisy are going over each other's past; still images, quick cuts, and voiceover are used to convey a lot of narrative information very quickly. As I said before, the show pays a lot of homage to movies. Subtly dropping in the Han and Luke "Same as always," "That bad, huh?" exchange from Return of the Jedi into a scene got a big laugh from me, but it's inserted so subtly into the text that it works both as an homage and as just a line of dialogue.
I'll admit I can't really approach the show without bias since the characters share so many of my interests. The main character, Tim, works at a comic book shop, wants to be a graphic artist, and makes pretentious speeches in defense of sci-fi TV shows and comics themselves. He feels like a real person, and I actually care about his plight. This is something I saw in The Office too — a creator who doesn't want to do just comedy, he wants to make real characters.
As the series develops, it becomes less bound by reality, but always funny. There’s an epic war movie parody paintball episode and an instant classic John Woo imaginary gun fight episode. The show may have been built up a bit too much thanks to its lengthy unavailability in America; it’s not a life-changing work, but it is a fantastic comedy, innovative, warm, and funny. And this new DVD box set of all fourteen episodes is great, full of commentaries from such notables as Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino. It’s great to finally have the show legally available here in the States.