The Future of Funny Has Already Happened
Welcome to 'Spaced,' the cult British comedy with 'Star Wars' in its eyes
It's been nearly a decade in the making, but Spaced, the brilliant, hilarious, impossibly superfantastic British sitcom written by Jessica Hynes (Son of Rambow) and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) and directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), is finally landing on stateside DVD, courtesy of BBC America. We'll brook no argument in saying that Spaced is the best sitcom ever made, and neither will Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith, Matt Stone, Patton Oswalt, or Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, all of whom contribute commentary tracks to the 14 half-hour episodes that compose this new, definitive triple-disc set.
But what, exactly, is Spaced? It's the ongoing story of two newfound friends, aspiring graphic novelist-cum-ravening fanboy Tim (Pegg) and would-be journalist Daisy (Hynes), who pretend to be married in order to secure an affordable flat in London. But, like all great stories, it's also about much more than its premise would lead you to believe: sci-fi and horror movies, art vs. commerce, youthful idealism, slo-mo finger-gunfights, Jaffa cakes, and friendship. Above all, though, it's a love story. One without an ending, actually, which leaves the door open for both personal interpretation and the slim possibility of more Spaced in the future. (Just don't hold your breath.)
The Chronicle spoke with series co-creator Jessica Hynes from her home in London, in anticipation of the American DVD debut and Hynes' upcoming July 27 appearance with co-creator Pegg and director Wright at a Spaced marathon, sponsored by Ain't It Cool News and Fantastic Fest, at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Skip to the End? Don't even think about it.
Austin Chronicle: The one question everybody who has seen Spaced asks is: What happened to Tim and Daisy? Or, what would have happened to Tim and Daisy had there been a third season?
Jessica Hynes: There were a few speculative conversations Simon and I had about that, and I think we kind of agreed in the end that we would like to get them together, but in a way that was as interesting as possible. We didn't want to make it too easy or use any of the usual devices that are used to keep people interested. But nothing was set in stone; nothing was written down. We never saw the show through to the natural conclusion of them growing up or becoming a couple or moving out, as in Friends. We never got that far. British television is different from American television in that way, you know? We do two series and then have to have a lie-down.
Ultimately, would they have got together or not? That was going to be the fun of writing it for Simon and I, because what we set up, initially, was this relationship that, as I realized afterwards, so many people can relate to, where you're in the friendship zone but there's an attraction there that's obviously more than just friendship. You almost wonder whether they would ever get to the point where they would be past their friendship and past the point of getting it on simply because they'd been friends for too long, right? But if that wasn't the case, they'd be very rare in that way because most people, if you've been friends with someone long enough, you just kind of think it would be weird to be with them in a romantic context. It would have been fun to play with that, though.
AC: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have said that there could be more Spaced at some unspecified point in the future, whereas [co-star] Nick Frost has gone on record as saying he's sure that's not going to happen. What's your answer? Will there be more Spaced? Possibly a film, if not television?
JH: I've said it, I've proposed it, and I want it. Simon doesn't, really. And I don't think Edgar can, right now. Simon feels it's not right for Spaced to return, but I would love to write those characters again and perform them again and bring them back. But Nick Frost and Simon are writing a film together; Edgar's got [comic-book adaptation] Scott Pilgrim that he's working on. They're all doing their own thing, and so logistically, to get us all back onto Spaced would be hard. And, hell, if Nick Frost is not going to do it, then there's no show as far as I'm concerned.
AC: How did you first meet Simon Pegg?
JH: I met Simon at an audition for a sketch show. I'd come along with my friend Katy Carmichael, who plays Twist in Spaced. It was her audition – I was just coming along. It was a bit of a "Leroy moment," actually. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and I picked up this monologue that Simon had written, which was about a guy who thought he was Peter Parker, and I did it completely differently from how Simon eventually ended up doing it. But I made everyone laugh, and Simon thought I was quite good, as did I when he performed it. So basically we ended up hanging out, getting on, and becoming really good friends. I was only 23 at the time, so I was a bit of a tomboy to begin with. He was actually a champion of me, because I wasn't particularly driven in any sort of way in terms of comedy or whatever. I was just going with the flow. The comedy thing was happening, but I wasn't really following through, and Simon really helped to boost my confidence.
AC: And how did the idea for Spaced come about?
JH: Simon was hooked up to do a show with Edgar called Asylum, which was a show about a load of comedians in an asylum. One of the comedians they had dropped out, because he thought it was unethical to make fun of mad people, and because I had no such qualms – I had no shame at all, actually – they brought me in to replace him. Simon and I ended up writing a lot of material and scripts for that show, and as a result, the producer said Simon and I should write a show together and have Edgar direct it. Which, of course, became Spaced.
AC: Was the idea for Spaced something that arrived fully formed? Or did it take a lot of back-and-forth between you and Simon to develop what became these two very complex, very emotionally honest characters?
JH: I knew from the start that I wanted to do something that would reflect my generation and my life experience, really. I left home when I was 17, started working flat-out when I was 18, and those years, from 18 to 24, were hard, but they were also magic. It was all about living in squats and having awful, shitty jobs that we hated and shared houses and no money and that entire world. And I felt that there was nothing that reflected that in a British way. Friends was just coming out over here at the time, but I remember thinking, gosh, that's so glossy, that world. Friends was almost a victim of how it was shot, practically. It didn't feel real, you know? I wanted to do something that was completely original and different and which reflected me and my friends and my generation without that sort of glossiness.
AC: One of the most memorable aspects of Spaced is its nonstop barrage of cinematic references, even to the point of Edgar shooting the episodes with a single camera. Was that always part of the template, or did that arrive later on?
JH: The parameters weren't totally fixed from the beginning, but it was Simon who honed that sort of film-reference fantasy device. And that's when it really all clicked. It was a very organic process, though, because it was all about Simon and I, as performers and writers and friends, really, very much so. And of course we were desperate for Edgar to direct it. In fact, when we first showed the scripts to him he was a bit "eh." But he came around.
AC: Did Edgar have much input into the scripts?
JH: Not really, although he did give us directorial notes along the lines of "Why don't you try it this way?" and "Switch that around."
AC: Why were there only two seasons of what was – and is – a tremendously popular show?
JH: Towards the end, I think there was feeling from Edgar that it was too hard to do what he did for the money he was getting to do it. The budget did not really reflect what was achieved, ultimately, by Edgar on a daily basis, in terms of the shooting schedule. It was all very well for Simon and I to dream up these ridiculously ambitious and fantastical stories and plot and situations, but it was Edgar who had to bear the brunt of creating all of that. Which he did, amazingly. It was so tough, and I think it was a very stressful experience directing it for television – all directing is. And by the time of the second season, Edgar and Simon had hatched the germ of the idea that would become Shaun of the Dead. I mean, we'd already had zombies in episode three of series one. Edgar and Simon were very much interested in writing something together that involved guns and zombies.
Spaced: The Complete Series debuted on DVD July 22.