Saturday, April 25, 2020

Friends reunited

Write about what you know, they say - and Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (then Jessica Stevenson) certainly did that in creating Spaced. They were both twentysomething aspiring creative types living in London at the time and, as Hadley Freeman notes on meeting them, the characters they created for themselves and Nick Frost were thinly veiled self-portraits.

Reflecting on the series two decades on, Freeman rightly flags up its influence on what followed in terms of "absurdist film homages", "playing with film and TV conventions" and "the mundanity of reality played against the grandeur of fantasy". To that, you could add the sparky dialogue, the sharp and deliberately-made-visible editing and the absence of a laughter track. Spaced may not have made a successful transfer across the Atlantic, but, as director Edgar Wright observes, some of the best US sitcoms of recent years "look quite Spaced-y".

The show was also ahead of its time with respect to gender equality. In Tim and Daisy, it had both male and female leads, with the latter's role not defined in relation to the former: "She is just as funny, and game - and useless - as the men."

What about 20 years on, though? Does Spaced still hold up? It certainly still feels brilliantly conceived, written, performed and directed. That it served as a springboard for the stellar careers of all involved is no surprise.

But, despite Pegg's claim that it doesn't feel dated in relation to Friends, time has moved on. As Freeman points out, the prospect of a procrastinating wannabe writer and a struggling comic-book artist living in that house now seems as absurd as some of the humour. Wright, meanwhile, acknowledges their good fortune in having "snuck in just under the line" - it's inconceivable that a bunch of youthful unknowns would be given the freedom and resources to make a series as fresh and unconventional as Spaced, especially one that was then handed a prime Friday evening slot on Channel 4.

The series had personal resonance too, having aired when I myself was a twentysomething moving from house-share to house-share, getting by on the cheap and harbouring creative career ambitions. The characters and the context felt familiar, and the meta humour and cultural in-jokes were our currency too. We, like them, "were Generation X". Two decades later, with my circumstances very different, it doesn't quite connect in the way it once did.

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