This week on the roundtable we continue with our Fall Television Secret Santa. Katie gifted Kerri the British comedy from 1999, Spaced. Below is their conversation about the show.
Katie: Well Kerri, was I right or was I right? Daisy is the best.
Kerri: You were so, so, so right. Not only is Daisy the best character on Spaced but she’s also now one of my favourite female TV characters of all time. She’s right up there with Liz Lemon in my books.
Katie: And Peggy Olson!
Before we get too far into details, want to give a brief description of Spaced for our lovely readers?
Kerri: Spaced is a show about two friends, Tim Bisley (Simon Pegg) and Daisy Steiner (Jessica Hynes, nee Stevenson), that pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat. Once they successfully rent the apartment, they find that it is populated by a hilarious mishmash of characters, like the constantly drunk building owner, Marsha, and the disturbed artist, Brian. The show plays around with genre convention and there are an abundance of pop-culture references.
Katie: So, anything you liked about the show?
Kerri: Haha. Can my answer be “all of it”?
But more precisely, I think that one of the many things that resonated with me was how much heart the show has. The show is, in my estimation, about two things: growing up/becoming an adult and how your friends are really your family. By the end of the series run I realized that it didn’t really matter all that much if Tim and Daisy “got together” because, in fact, they already were together all along.
I also found it really exciting to see just how much of this show that aired in 1999 and 2001 has shaped modern sitcoms and influenced shows like 30 Rock, Arrested Development and most especially, Community.
The way that the show plays on genre and film convention didn’t always work for me but when it hit it hit hard.
Katie: You make three really good points, and I’d love to chat about all of them.
Firstly, the heart of the show. I like to think of “hang out” comedies as belonging to two categories. One where the friends are nice to each other and the one where they are mean to each other. Spaced falls into the nice category, where the friends are friends for a reason. They look out for each other and the hilarious antics come from trying to do the right thing (and sometimes failing.) Example: the super funny episode where Tim recruits everyone to try to rescue Daisy’s dog from a cosmetics lab. No one really cares about the dog (maybe not even Daisy), but they know the effort would make Daisy feel good.
I thought you might like this vibe, because you’ve mentioned before you often like shows where the characters are generally good people.
Kerri: I am a super-fan of shows, especially comedies, where the characters, generally, have good hearts and I like shows about friends where the characters are people who enjoy each other’s company. I don’t need them to be people I would want to hang out with in real life but I want them to want to hang out with each other. I usually reserve my time with the meanies for dramatic television.
Katie: Drama is the home of jerks.
What about Spaced do you think influenced those shows you mentioned? Definitely the experimental style. Spaced often jumps into different genres at whim.
Kerri: Spaced peppers its comedy with pop culture references and, like you say, will pop in and out of different genres on a dime. You can directly see the influence it has had in this regard on a show like Community. In fact, there is a paintball episode in Spaced that is a direct predecessor to the one on Community.
I think one thing that Spaced did that no other live-action show was doing at the time (that I can remember at least) are non sequiturs and pop-ins to flashbacks or other short scenes that are basically just there to add a joke. For example, there are these short little scenes that pop up throughout the show where we see Tim and his friend Mike at around the age of 8 up in a tree (Mike has always had a moustache). Or, another similar scene where we see Daisy as a child walking a box on a leash, meant to prove to us that she has always wanted a dog and be super funny at the same time.
Comedies do this all of the time now. This convention was used a lot on a show like 30 Rock and it is a very cartoony convention (see both The Simpsons and Family Guy). I had no idea that it really originated in live-action sitcoms on Spaced.
Katie: Those are such common conventions that it’s easy to forget that comedies weren’t always like that. The early 2000’s were a good time for TV comedy innovation (I’m looking at you also, The Office.)
Kerri: I am still impressed by these conventions and they still seem fresh to me. It’s insane to think that some of this stuff is almost 15 years old.
Katie: Anything you didn’t like about the show?
Kerri: I mentioned that the way the show integrates the horror, sci-fi, action movie genre stuff didn’t always work for me and I can elaborate on this a bit. I think that this works better in some episodes than others. You mentioned the episode where Colin the dog goes missing and the gang has to save him from a testing facility. What I liked about this episode was that the heist/action movie conventions that the show plays with have a distinct purpose. The characters are ACTUALLY breaking into the test lab and ACTUALLY saving Colin. There is a reason for the show to fit these things into the episode and thus they work splendidly. Similarly, in the paintball episode, there is a purpose to the action movie conventions that the episode takes on. Tim has an enemy in Duane Benzie and he can act on his heroic impulses during the paintball game.
I found these things less interesting when they were just peppered into the show for jokes. I’m thinking specifically of the horror conventions in the first episode. They don’t really go anywhere.
The great thing with a show like Spaced is that this genre stuff is neat and funny but I am pretty sure the show would work just as well without it because we are so invested in the characters.
That being said, the three biggest giggle fits I had while watching the show all play with genre and pop culture:
1. When Mike “dies” during the paintball game and spits up paintball “blood”.
2. When Daisy starts writing again and the Murder She Wrote theme plays.
3. The silliest fake gun battle in history with Tim, Daisy and the young punks.
How did these things work for you? Was there anything you found lacking while watching the show?
Katie: Almost none of the horror references landed with me, only because I don’t watch horror. But the genre stuff I did like were, like you said, often action sequences. I also didn’t necessarily like the need to pair up all the main characters with each other, but meh, it was charming.
Kerri: I didn’t necessarily mind the pairing up, as you call it, because that seems to be what happens on most sitcoms. I was quite thrilled by the fact that Tim and Daisy don’t end up together in the conventional sense.
Katie: Since you mentioned the fake gun battle, I would like to say that Spaced really has a knack for interesting and fun detail moments like that. Things that aren’t necessary for the plot, but say so much about the characters.
Kerri: That is, actually, one thing I want to hit on: just how silly the show is. You rarely see an American show that is content to settle for silliness as its resting state. Everything is so slick and polished whereas on Spaced nothing is slick or polished but it’s all the better for it.
Katie: Daisy’s behaviour after coming back from Asia was something I haven’t seen so well… explored… before on a comedy. The homesickness of being away from home.
Kerri: Very good point. I don’t recall that being a plot point on many other shows, especially comedy. In fact, I would argue that Daisy’s return to the flat when she comes back from Asia is where the show really hits its stride with her character arc. Both in the way the show really starts focusing on Daisy as a fraud and what it says about the way we scare ourselves out of doing what we really want to do when we are young.
Katie: The character of Daisy is very comforting to me. As much of a mess her life sometimes seems, she is so cheerful about it. She learns life lessons but is never a pushover (see: the great sequence where she gets “sacked” over and over.)
Kerri: Absolutely. The other thing I love about Daisy is that the show has the balls to make her the BIGGEST fuck up on the show. The other characters are varying degrees of semi-employed/or at least working towards getting what they want out of life. Daisy is just bad at everything she tries to do and can’t even start doing the one thing she wants to do: write. You rarely, if ever, see that from a female character on a comedy.
I am quite certain that this is all on Jessica Hynes and what she does with the writing and acting for Daisy.
Kerri: *I should note that Marsha MIGHT be a bigger mess than Daisy. Twist is basically a liar so she doesn’t really count.
Katie: Daisy may not even WANT to write. She doesn’t really WANT anything, which is also weird but refreshing to see. 99% of the time, a story needs characters who desperately want something.
Kerri: You just hit upon something ELSE I love about the show: what it says about people at that stage of their lives. Daisy turns 26 throughout the course of the show. She’s not quite an adult but she’s definitely not a kid. What does she want? She probably doesn’t know. But she likes hanging out with Tim, smoking pot and having a pint.
Katie: I think the reason I relate to Daisy so closely is that, like Daisy, I don’t have the obsessions that a good TV character usually does.
Kerri: And I think that’s the lovely thing about the show. It’s willing to spend time with characters that are unlike characters we are used to. They just hang out and we get to hang out with them. The show is über casual and that’s refreshing.
Katie: Any last comments or shout outs?
Kerri: My final shout out is to The Littlest Hobo reference. Any show that references Canadian television is tops.
Katie: I’d like to give a shout out to Colin, which is possibly the best name for a dog.
Kerri: And thanks for gifting this show to me. It was wonderful.
Katie: Thanks to Rob Ross who recommended Spaced in an article earlier this year!
2 thoughts on “Email Roundtable #33 – Spaced”
Lovely to see other Daisy Steiner fans!
Thanks so much, Ceinwen! I’m so glad I found her.