Sunday, May 04, 2008

John's DVD of the Month Club - May 2008 Pt 2

Gone (an episode of Spaced written by Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg, directed by Edgar Wright)

So the theme of this month’s dvd was duality: two selections from two different media (film and television) showing two cultures (East and West), each highlighting the conflicts between men and women, reality and fantasy, comedy and tragedy. May is the first of two months partially under the sign of Gemini the twins*. Etcetera, etcetera.

After the creepy beauty of Miike’s Box, there’s something refreshing about the frantic silliness of Spaced. Anyone who stays over at my apartment is inevitably introduced to Spaced, and what starts with “You might like this – let’s watch this one episode” invariably ends three hours later after watching an entire season in one shot with promises made to watch the remaining episodes the following day. There’s only two seasons of Spaced, a total of 14 episodes, which is both a source of frustration and an explanation as to why the show is so good. They stopped before they ran out of ideas.

The setup is this: Tim and Daisy are friends who must pretend to be a couple in order to rent a cheap flat. Around them rotate Tim’s friend Mike; Daisy’s friend Twist; Brian, the artist downstairs; and Marsha, their perpetually pissed (in the British sense, not the American) landlady. The setup is nothing: it’s almost deliberately sitcom-cliché and rarely figures in the show. It acts as a frame on which to hang a fast array of jokes: visual humor (the way the S on a canister doubles as the first letter in “Six Hours Earlier”), character humor (soldier-wannabe Mike’s wistful “yeah” in response to the description of men as being nothing but destroyers), verbal humor (“There’s been a misprint on one of the covers of the new issues.” “Which one?” “Total Cult.” “Oh.”), slapstick (the climatic shootout) and pop culture references. There’s so much funny coming so fast that the number of jokes that do work is remarkably high. What’s more impressive is that the jokes that don’t work don’t ruin the show. The characters never act out of character just to score a laugh. Even when indulging in the most outlandish fantasy, it remains true to the characters and their situation. And funny.

An example of how good Spaced is is that its pop culture references don’t annoy the hell out of me. I’m beyond burnt out on comedy based on pop culture, which means my taste is completely out of fashion with contemporary humor, which seems like nothing but pop culture references. Not jokes, mind you, but references alone. “Tina Yothers” “Charles Bronson” “Gary Coleman” are considered witticisms in and of themselves. The backbreaking straw was when, apropos of absolutely nothing, a moose showed up on the Simpsons’ front lawn accompanied by the theme from Northern Exposure. There’s no joke there, no context, and no commentary of any kind. The moose is only there to flatter those who recognize the reference. This was when I began to dislike The Simpsons. But when Tim and Daisy mimic the frozen Jack Nicholson from the end of The Shining it’s funny because it builds off the previous line of dialogue and because their faces are funny. You could also argue that this is how Tim and Daisy see the world: real-life experience filtered through a media-based framework. It explains Tim’s description of their night out being represented by cartoons and the slow motion "gunfight" at the end.

I feel a certain nostalgia watching Spaced because it reminds me of my twenties and early thirties, years spent living with roommates, hanging out with friends in bars, enjoyably wasting time so as not to worry about the future. The show is a pleasant fantasy: there’s something reassuring about its philosophy of silliness as a way of life. Who doesn’t want to live in a world in which you can escape a beating by spontaneously playing shoot-out with a bunch of hoodlums?

I thought Spaced was coming out on dvd in the US next month, but it's not currently listed on Watch for it - it is well worth getting when it does come out.

*the best sign in the zodiac, I might add.


Erin said...

One of the things I miss about staying at The House of John is watching episodes of "Spaced." Every episode was hilarious and every character was likable (especially Daisy. It's a tribute to Jessica Hynes that Daisy never crossed over into the annoying/self-centered/harpy trap that most female lead characters on sitcoms fall into--Daisy always remained endearing). It truly is one of the best sitcoms I've ever seen.

"It's not finished . . .it's finished!"

the hanged man said...

Last time I watched Spaced (Lowery and Ann were visiting and we tore through the entire series in a day and a half) I realized that Daisy changes and makes progress over the course of the series, whereas Tim kinda stays the same. He's still obsessing over a girlfriend - it just happens to be a different one. Daisy at the end of series 2 is not the same mess that she is at the beginning of series 1. But yes, she is still funny and likable, even when she has her shit together.

erin said...

BTW, I don't remember if you told me first or I told you. . .but there is going to be an American version of Spaced. It's being produced by. . .McG. The guy who did the "Charlie's Angels" movies and some terrible music videos in the 1990's, so that should be very shitty. I found a review of the script fo the pilot, and it's as bad as you can guess.

the hanged man said...

Yeah, I knew about the American remake. Terrible idea all around.

By the way, the original Spaced comes out on dvd on July 22nd.

Julie said...

I find it interesting that you devoted so much more blog space to the British sitcom than to the Japanese art film. Ienjoyed both of them, but you're right - Spaced was a relief after the 1st movie which was like a Japanese Twin Peaks; obtuse and disturbing but beautiful