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Friday, April 18, 2008

"Spaced" invaders: Hollywood gets its filthy, dirty hands on a classic

There was once this sitcom back around the turn of the century called "Spaced" that you've probably never seen, and maybe never even heard of. This isn't your fault, really -- for one thing, it's British, and to my knowledge has never aired on so much as BBC America here in the States. It's also failed to make it to DVD over here, due to 30-seconds worth of the "Star Wars" theme being used in one episode. So it's not your fault -- it's George Lucas's lawyers.

But at the risk of sounding like a limey, "Spaced" is bleedin' brilliant. And now there's a group of Hollywood wankers trying to ruin it.

The brainchild of stars Simon Pegg (recently of "Run Fatboy Run,") and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson), "Spaced" was the story of two slackers who pretend to be dating to get into a couples-only apartment. That by-the-numbers plot was merely the frame on which was hung fast and furious pop-culture references, bizarre characters, sardonic relationship humor and spot-on movie parodies. (What other show, for example, could seamlessly cram spoofs of "Robocop," "Grease," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," and "Fight Club" into one episode?) In fact, each episode was shot to look like a film, thanks to director Edgar Wright, who went on to make "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" with Pegg and co-star Nick Frost. If you've seen either of those slices of cinema gold, you'll already have a feel for how "Spaced" looks. In the annals of sitcomdom, there's never been anything else like it.

But if there's one thing in the entertainment business more reliable than an annual Kenny G holiday album, it's the creative bankruptcy of Hollywood. (Motto: "If something's done well, it's worth redoing poorly.") The fact that someone wants to remake "Spaced" for American audiences isn't so galling, nor surprising. I mean, Greg Daniels' successful "Office" remake was able to take the original's concept and expand on it without totally destroying it. (Well, at least until it jumped the shark in season 3.) But whereas original creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant were along for the ride in "The Office"'s trip overseas, the producers of the American "Spaced" never so much as asked for permission from Pegg or Hynes to rebirth their baby, and that is what really chafes my bum.

Oh, and Simon and Jessica are a bit miffed, too.

"My main problem with the notion of a 'Spaced' remake," Pegg wrote at his official website, "is the sheer lack of respect that Granada/Wonderland/Warner Bros have displayed in respectively selling out and appropriating our ideas without even letting us know. A decision I can only presume was made as a way of avoiding having to give us any money, whilst at the same time using mine and Edgar (Wright)'s name in their press release, in order to trade on the success of 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz'..."

It should come as no surprise that the man behind the remake is hack "Charlies Angels" director and silly-name-haver McG. To his credit, McG has said publicly that he would very much like to include the show's original creators in the remake's production. That says maybe -- blimey, I'm sounding so British today -- but the fact remains that they're not involved, and fans of "Spaced" are a bit bothered. Multiple online petitions have sprung up in protest of "McSpaced" -- as the rabid faithful have deemed the U.S. version -- urging producers to rethink the remake. They have likely failed, because A) online petitions always fail, what were they thinking?; and B) it's been reported that the "McSpaced" pilot has already started production in L.A.

I'm not the first to suggest that an American "Spaced" simply won't work. The original's humor was so specific to its writer/stars, Pegg and Hynes, the look so tailored to Wright's unique style, that any attempt to recreate its magic is doomed to go tits up (again with the Britishisms!). In fact, Matt Goldberg over at got his hot little hands on "McSpaced"'s pilot script, and reports that some bits are quite simply lifted word-for-word from the original, even down to camera moves and sound effects. His conclusion is that, while the script is a fairly decent imitation, it's still merely an imitation, and that truly there's only one "Spaced." The idea of the show -- strangers posing as a couple in order to score an apartment -- isn't so original that Hollywood couldn't simply steal it and call it something else, so why go through all this hassle in the first place?

Whether or not the remake will be any good and actually land a spot on Fox's (of course) fall lineup is anybody's guess, but here's a sure bet: If it makes it on the air, this is one fan who won't be watching. And if you've actually read this far, then I have a favor to ask: Don't watch it either. Because it's one thing to remake a brilliant, cult British comedy for mass American consumption. But to literally steal it from its creators without so much as a phone call asking for an OK ... well, that's just bollocks.

Luckily, there are a couple of ways you can actually witness the jolly-goodness of "Spaced" for yourself. A DVD set of both seasons is expected to finally be released stateside sometime in July. (Take that, Lucas!) Or you can sign up at ad-supported website, which has all 14 episodes available in so-so video quality for free. I leave you now with but a taste, courtesy of YouTube:

-- Adam Reinhard,

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I can never forgive McG for what he did to Charlie's Angels (though I grudgingly admit the movies were a bit entertaining). And "McG" sounds like a Grey's Anatomy episode from the 1950's. "McGee-whiz Meredith! Whatever shall we do now that McDreamy pinned Nurse Strumpet?" But that's just the hate talking.

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At April 21, 2008 at 12:11 PM  

I posted the above before I finished the blog. I snicker at the "(of course)" after Fox.

I also shudder to think of a time when Hollywood gets it's hands on Ab Fab, dare I dream it won't happen?

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At April 21, 2008 at 12:13 PM  

Hollywood already got its hands on AbFab. There was a shortlived CBS show in 1995 called "High Society" with Jean Smart and Mary McDonnell that basically followed the same lines. Also, I always thought Cybill Shepherd's eponymous '95 sitcom stole from AbFab quite gratuitously as well.

Check me out, I used "eponymous" in a sentence!

But you are correct, a faithful American remake of the adventures of Edina and Patsy would be horrific. They would have to someone make them "likeable," and that would destroy it.


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At April 21, 2008 at 6:50 PM  

I didn't know about the CBS version, though, I'm not geriatric so I don't watch much CBS.

And I never made the Cybill-AbFab connection. Hm. You might've just blown my mind...or, if not the whole mind, at least my medulla oblongata. Yeah. I just used medulla oblongata in a sentence. Word.

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At April 22, 2008 at 10:03 AM  

Oh, let's not even get into what NBC did to the brilliant "Coupling" that was thankfully shortlived in its idiocy.

By Blogger Malavika Jagannathan, At April 26, 2008 at 12:21 PM  

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