On paper, the 1999–2001 BBC series Spaced sounds like every other sitcom to come down the pike after Friends. Aspiring writer Daisy Steiner and would-be comics artist Tim Bisley (series cocreators Jessica Stevenson and the great Simon Pegg, future star of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) pose as a couple to score a cheap flat and have misadventures with eccentric supporting characters, including Tim’s gun nut best friend, Mike Watt (Nick Frost, Pegg’s Hot Fuzz sidekick); the couple’s neighbor, a gloomy, vaguely Krameresque painter named Brian Topp (Mark Heap); and the landlady, Marsha Klein (Julia Deakin), a depressive ex–rock chick who’s obsessed with Brian.
Yet the result, directed by Pegg’s filmmaking collaborator Edgar Wright, is an addictive mélange of knockabout comedy (an epic paintball match presages Hot Fuzz’s Jerry Bruckheimer-style overkill), sly social satire (Daisy tries to salvage a disastrous interview at a superhip women’s magazine by blurting out, “Girl power!”) and Simpsons-worthy bursts of pop-culture parody (Tim’s zombie fantasies are a gory rehearsal for Shaun). Wright and the cast deftly navigate the script’s sudden modal shifts, from dumb-ass farce to stray moments of melancholy. When Brian reminisces about his former creative partner, a “non-gender-specific” performance artist, he sounds as if he’s mourning a great, busted romance: “It’s hard to hear the story of a love affair between two straight men, one of whom is the most divine woman alive.” Within the pretzel-logic context of Spaced, he makes perfect sense.