How to binge watch... 'Spaced'

The short-lived Channel 4 sitcom still sparkles with pop culture references 17 years after becoming a cult hit


[Channel 4]

Why binge Spaced?

Channel 4 has a track record for spotting the makings of a cult hit when someone pitches a sitcom to the British channel’s comedy commissioners. But cult isn’t quite the right adjective to describe Spaced, a brilliantly realised celebration of pop culture extraordinariness centred around to down-on-their-heel flatmates. Certainly, Spaced has a loyal and devoted following, but it’s more often than not an audience that came to the show long after it creators had conquered Hollywood. But anyone who does dip into the retrospective work of Messrs Wright, Pegg, Frost and Madame Hynes cannot but be blown away by how smart it is – and how plucky.

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Jessica Hynes (although back in 1999 went by Stevenson) had all made other projects before coming together on their sitcom, but the trio brought out the best in each other. Pegg and Hynes’ script, seamlessly meshing geek and slacker culture in a late 90s London setting, is filled with so many throwaway references and recognisable moments that film buffs and comic book nerds gain an extra layer of appreciation. But maybe the real star of the show is Wright’s visual style, turning a drab and dingy flat into a place where everything from zombie attacks to martial arts showdowns can happen, pairs perfectly with the tone of the show.

As Daisy and Tim, Hynes and Pegg manage to bring a bizarre mix of laid-back warmth with explosions of frenetic action and absurdity. The supporting cast, with Nick Frost stealing the scene as affable military psycho Mike, brings everything they can to their parts, which ask a lot of them. Add to that cameos by everyone in British comedy worth their salt (Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss, David Walliams, Ricky Gervais, Bill Bailey, Peter Serafinowicz, etc), and you know that you’re onto something that bears repeat viewing – especially if it’s been nearly a decade since you last gave it a go.

How long will it take to binge?

With only two seasons of seven episodes apiece, a Spaced binge is a relatively short one, clocking in at six hours and 18 minutes. While achievable in one sitting, probably best to stretch it out over a weekend or two.

Where can you binge it?

Like all Channel 4 shows, it is available on the All 4 website and app, meaning it can be streamed to televisions using an Apple TV or Chromecast or devoured using a tablet or laptop. Purist fans might want to take the plunge with the special collectors’ edition DVD boxset, complete with the ‘Homage-O-Meter’ subtitles that reference every piece of pop culture nodded to throughout the episodes.

A new boxset will set you back roughly €12. The DVDs are a little trickier to find on second-hand retailing websites, but shouldn’t cost more than €4.

Any hurdles to overcome?

Simon Pegg does, for many people, have a certain Marmite appeal, and his massively successful career post-Spaced, including starring turns in the new Star Trek franchise and the much-loved Cornetto Trilogy has won him fans and haters in equal amounts. Aside from that, it’s possible that some of the references will go over viewers’ heads, not because they are so esoteric in their geekdom. Rather, it’s the fact that the show is squaring in on its 20th anniversary, and some of that pop culture ephemera hasn’t stood the test of time.

Who steals the show?

Nigh on impossible to choose one cast member from an ensemble this strong. Even the cameos are memorable, with Northern Irish actor Michael Smiley’s courier Tyres O’Flaherty still inspiring raves two decades later. Of the two leads, arguably Hynes brings a shade more to Daisy, creating a character whose insecurities and triumphs can be expressed with a simple shrug or nod of agreement. But even Colin the dog does wonderful stuff here, so it’s too hard to call.

A scene to sample:

From the third episode of the first season, this homage to George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, by way of playing Resident Evil 2 for 12 hours while on drugs would go on to inspire Shaun of the Dead, and perfectly illustrates how Spaced created something very new by embracing pop culture literacy.

What to follow up with once you’ve finished your binge?

Most likely, you’ll want to watch Pegg and Wright’s brilliantly off-the-wall trilogy of Shaun, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End – although it is a case of diminishing returns with those. Fans of surrealist humour could take a shot on Green Wing, or there’s always the media satire 2012/W1A in which Hynes plays Siobhan Sharpe, a branding expert making it up as she goes along.

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