October 31st, 2007

Tom Lehrer is Smug

definitely not fried gold

Unsettling! It looks like there may very well be a US version of Spaced, one of my favorite British comedies of all time -- hell, one of my favorite comedy series of all time, written by Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson and directed by Edgar Wright. Considering Pegg and Wright (along with Nick Frost, who also stars in the show) have given us Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, you can understand, even if you haven't seen the show, that it was a clever two seasons of well-written, well-directed shows with strange, engaging, but human characters and bizarre circumstances, all the while revolving around one of the most inane sitcom contrivances ever: two complete strangers in their late twenties pose as a married couple to get a great deal on a flat.

The show knew that contrivance was weak. That's why it was used and why it was quickly pushed to the side as the program transcended the conceit and focused episodes on the characters and their struggle to find normality in that unsteady state of life. There's the writer Daisy, who constantly comes up with ways to avoid writing (she throws a party, gets a dog, ups and spontaneously runs off to Asia for a trip while scheming to continue to earn unemployment.) Tim's a comic book artist who's struggling not only to get back his girlfriend, but also overcome a particularly painful rejection and begin to submit work again without fear of further humiliation. His best friend Mike got kicked out of the TA (Britain's equivalent of the Army Reserve) after "the incident", where he commandeered a tank while on maneuvers in France and attempted to invade Paris (his plan came to halt when he stopped at EuroDisney to ride Space Mountain.) Mike, who counts the A-Team among his personal heroes, only wants to regain a career in the military.

They're comic characters, yes, but their wants, needs and fears resonate true in the hearts and minds of 20-somethings and some 30-somethings who still haven't figured out what they really wish for in life, or how to accomplish it. That's one of the reasons why I like the show so much. For all its surreal moments, incredibly hilarious character turns and more pop culture references than you can shake a stick at, the show features characters who, at their core, are just as vulnerable as anyone. It was a great mix, and probably only came about because it was clear Pegg and Stevenson (who wrote for and played Tim and Daisy) were writing primarily for their own amusement, and it's clear they drew from their personal feelings and worries to give these characters their own voice. I mean, ever known a creative type with just so much creative energy bursting in them but they find it impossible to channel it? .....yeaaaaaaaah.

But the US remake will be on FOX. Directed by McG, who was responsible in part for The O.C. Oh dear. Here's probably what the summary of their show will be, taken from my writeup above: Two complete strangers in their late twenties pose as a married couple to get a great deal on a flat. I mean, apartment.

Sure, I know the best-case scenario: The US Office, which became its own show with its own characters and story arcs. It's pretty much moot now to compare the fourth season with the two seasons of the UK version, as it's diverged enough from its predecessor so as to be on its own.

But I know the worst-case scenario? The US version of Red Dwarf. Both attempts. (We're pretending that Coupling, Men Behaving Badly and The Kumars At No. 42 never existed here.)

Now it's quite all right to say "You know, that's a great show idea. I wonder if we could make our own show using that idea." But if you do a straight-up translation of an existing show, you fail. Miserably.

Even so, the US couldn't do a straight-up translation of Spaced. The characters aren't typical US sitcom characters. There's casual drug use with no overt discussion of it. In one episode, Tim stays up all night on amphetamines playing Resident Evil and the next day sees zombies everywhere, ready to attack. (The team had such a great time recreating classic horror movie shots that it inspired development on Shaun of the Dead.) There's an entire episode revolving around a mixup between a bag of weed and a bag of really good oregano. And in yet another, the entire gang visits a dance club and while it's never explicitly mentioned, their interaction definitely indicates that yeah, they're rolling on Ecstasy. This just won't play in Peoria.

So why take the Spaced name, or the brand, or whatever, Fox? Just make your own damn lame sitcom about two perfect strangers in their late twenties who pose as a married couple to get a good deal on an apartment, make them cookie-cutter one-dimensional slackers and give em wacky one-dimensional but squeaky-clean sidekicks, add inane dialogue and a laugh track, and let it loose. Call it something like "I Do (Not Really.)"

For real bonus points, wait until you've got another Bryan Fuller project on the air, yank that after four episodes, and replace it with this.