Spaced burst forth from the creative minds of Jessica Hynes and Simon Pegg back at the end of the Nineties, giving credence to all that we hold dear. Every film, every TV show, every videogame, comic and sci-fi character upon whom we lavish so much of our attention, and affection, was homaged and dealt the fitting tribute they deserve. By definition Spaced might be a situation comedy, that most well regarded staple of British television, but the content of this sitcom, the surrealist flights of fancy, the off-kilter characters, and the geek-delighting in-joking, renders it a modern classic of science fiction firmly in its own right.
Following Tim and Daisy, two post university twenty-somethings struggling to make their way in the world, on paper Spaced is straightforward comedy material: the misadventures of two individuals striving to find their place. But Hynes and Pegg’s minds don’t work that way. Instead of the heart-warming comedy of errors and morally conscious lessons-learned styled episodes, Spaced is a sharp, knowing, and frenetically paced ride through a bizarre world where fantasy and reality blend in an explosion born from the pop-culture saturated minds of Daisy and Tim, and by proxy Hynes and Pegg.
The two originally pitched the show to ITV and Paramount as a mix of The Simpsons, The X Files and Northern Exposure. Despite the movie-referencing geek overload, though, Pegg and Hynes were adamant that their creation would not just be a starstruck pastiche. “We wanted to make the show real,” Pegg explains of the inspiration that drove them, “and have the characters go through real emotions, albeit in a slightly weird setting. We were both really annoyed about the state of sitcoms for twenty-somethings, which all seemed to be about everyone shagging around. My interest in science fiction and ‘geekiness’ and her interest in popular culture just came together.” The programme, though, as they envisaged it, would not have been the same had it not been for the input of a Dorset born young director. Edgar Wright, whom Pegg and Hynes had worked with on the Paramount Comedy Channel series Asylum, joined the project early on, particularly for a director, who are normally the final piece of the puzzle to be completed. Being part of the show’s organic development from an early stage (he was brought on board 18 months before the cameras began to roll), Wright brought with him an eccentric shooting style, which suited the subject matter to a T. “We wanted to make a sitcom that was not conventional,” Pegg says in reflection, “we wanted to make something that was single camera, no audience, very associative, and which was all over the place in terms of narrative. When Edgar came on board he brought a very specific visual approach, which we really wanted but otherwise didn’t know how to get.” Adopting a style that marked it as different from the other crop of post-adolescence, pre-adult orientated fare, Spaced mined a very particular territory. Its ‘one camera, no audience’ rule distinguished it from the heavily set-based sitcoms that were, and still are, the norm, but more importantly, Wright’s talents included a knack for mimicking the film styles of others – a handy ability to have when constructing homages to films as varied as The Matrix, Robocop, Close Encounters, and Platoon.