There are no filmmakers like Edgar Wright. Wright has taken what’s already fun about the cinematic experience and filled it with cheeky humor, impressively diverse visuals, and emotional thorough lines, offering familiar narratives (buddy cop movies, zombies, aliens) while simultaneously broadening them to find something that can reach past those formulaic tropes.
Yes, you’ve all just stumbled across my embarrassing love letter to Edgar Wright.
Everyone with a particular vision has to begin somewhere, and for Wright, that was a little television show called Spaced. Unsurprisingly, it shows hints of his directorial style to come while also being one of the most self-assured debuts of any director. He got it. He got what was funny and how to make it funnier with a quick cutaway, a certain angle, or a brazen close-up with absurd sound effects. He, along with writers Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes, understood mid-twenty year olds who were a little aimless, a little broke, and a little co-dependent on the friends they surround themselves with.
Pegg and Hynes play Daisy and Tim, respectively, and we first meet them in a fantastic fake out. Daisy is breaking up with someone and Tim is being broken up with, and it’s cut to look like they’re speaking to one another, when in fact they hadn’t even met yet. Instead they encounter one another in a café later, both lamenting the state of their luck. After a few more coincidental run-ins they decide to live together, but in order to get the apartment they’ve both been eyeing, they have to pretend to be a couple to fool the landlady, Marsha (Julia Deakin).
Then the rest of the characters are introduced. Mike (Nick Frost), Tim’s best friend, is an army nut who suffered a traumatic incident in his past that keeps him from enlisting. There’s the next door neighbor, Brian (Mark Heap)—the sooner you accept his out of control absurdities, the sooner you’ll grow to love him. Then there’s Twist (Katy Carmichael), who doesn’t feel like she gets enough attention and isn’t even quite sure why she’s friends with Daisy, who isn’t sure either herself.
The first episode of Spaced, “Beginnings,” showcases much of the formula that will become iconic in later Wright movies. Aside from the opening gag there’s also the “Getting to Know You” montage as Tim and Daisy become friends, and a great punchline when we realize they don’t even know one another’s names before stepping into the apartment.
We’re also introduced into some of Wright’s running themes—there’s his fear of twins, featuring a nice little The Shining reference, as well as his fear of teenagers, where we hear Marsha’s daughter Amber yell incomprehensibly and stomp her feet until she runs out the door and into a car that speeds away. There are nods to The X-Files, Terminator 2 and Scooby Doo all within the first episode and none of them seem tacked on or condescending. This was a show made for people who loved pop culture.
One of the episode’s strongest moments comes later when most of the cast brought together at once. Tim meets Brian, who lives downstairs, and invites him up. Brian may have my favorite introduction so far—he arrives in nothing but rain boots, a bathrobe and a cowboy hat and when asked what he does an artist he replies: “Anger. Pain. Fear. Aggression.” It’s too good to just explain—just watch it:
The next scene where Marsha, Tim, Daisy and Brian sit around the table drinking cheap white wine, smoking, and talking about nothing is eerily relatable to me. Not all weekends are exciting nights out and, in my case, most of them take place indoors with affordable drinks. Tis series struck up a very quick confidence in how they show young adults hanging out, and how most of the time it’s defined based on how much money they have. It’s also worth noting that this is one of the first times that there’s a hinted past between Marsha and Brian.
In terms of reliability, I don’t think I’ve seen a character like Daisy, before or after the series. She is the woman we all know, that many of us are, and yet are rarely portrayed onscreen. She doesn’t wear makeup if she can get away with it, has a fashion sense that unfortunately dictates itself based on the time period (hello chokers, and damn you) and on what she has readily available. She’s weird, talkative to a fault and socially awkward, without being made into the butt of the joke. She’s also fantastically confident in who she is and how she acts even if she’s not confident in areas in her life that are out of her control, such as money and her career. Hynes plays her well and with such a definitive presence that I couldn’t help but think by the end of the first episode that I’ve known this character.
Pegg’s Tim is just as charming, while not as wide-ranging of a role as we’ve learned to expect from his other Wright vehicles where he’s been allowed to stretch his acting muscles a bit. His perpetually grumpy attitude mixed with Hyne’s enthusiasm makes for a great pairing, and the chemistry is instantaneous when they first meet. Daisy is wants to be a journalist but can’t get up the will to sit down and write (hello life) and Tim is a struggling cartoonist who has fun ideas but can’t capture an audience. Neither have a concrete direction and it’s refreshing.
You may be surprised that I say this after heaping praise on the episode, but the series premiere is hardly a highlight of what the show has to come and, in fact, it took me two viewings before it struck a chord that I could get behind. However, once I did, I was hooked. It’s an immensely likeable show that’s aged well and has developed a following after years of reliably high quality films for Wright, Pegg and co. The episode is good, but not great, and if this is Wright at his most hesitant, you can only imagine the peaks he’ll hit through the run of the show.
Allyson Johnson is a twenty something writer and a lover of film and all things pop-culture. She’s a film and television enthusiast and critic over at TheYoungFolks.com who spends too much of her free time on Netflix. Her idols are Jo March, Illana Glazer, and Amy Poehler. Check her out at her twitter @AllysonAJ or at The Young Folks.
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