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Where Pilots Go to Die: FOX's "Spaced"

Ah, schadenfreude. There is something innately satisfying about watching a terrible pilot project go down the tubes when it was doomed from the very start. And there were few more misguided and foolhardy attempts this past pilot season than that of the US adaptation of UK cult series Spaced.

Created by Simon Pegg, Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson), and Edgar Wright, the original Spaced was a brilliant and hyperkinetic pastiche: at once a tongue-in-cheek satire of sitcoms, an inversion of social stereotypes, and a collection of astounding sight gags, blink-and-you'll-miss-'em pop culture references, and endearingly quirky characters. It was most definitely a product of its time as well, fused into the fabric of 1990s Gen-X slackers and offering a commentary on both American and British cultural sensibilities of the time.

In a word, it was brilliant.

Cut to 2008, following a rough development year, in which the stars/creators of Spaced spoke out against the US version of the series after they weren't consulted about the remake and in some cases (Hynes) weren't even mentioned in any press releases about the series. I managed to get my hands on the completed pilot for the American update of Spaced and I was curious to see if it warranted the ire of Pegg and Co.

And that's where schadenfreude comes in. To call Spaced a pale imitation of the original is actually quite insulting to pale imitations everywhere. No, this US remake--written by Adam Barr (Will & Grace) and directed by Charles Stone (Lincoln Heights)--is quite possibly one of the worst things I've ever seen and that's saying quite a lot.

Quick recap on the action: two strangers, both post-breakup with significant others, meet at a coffee shop as they look for a new place to live when they stumble onto a dream apartment. The only catch is that it's only being offered to a married couple, so they pose as newlyweds in order to land the place. It's a deceptive simple premise that, in the original anyway, never falls into Three's Company-type sitcom gags and instead uses it as a springboard to explore the relatonship between Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Hynes) and their friendships, hopes, dreams, and bizarro fantasies.

It was with a great deal of trepidation that I sat down to watch Spaced's busted pilot over the weekend... and was amazed by how wrong the production team had gotten every element of the series, even from the script stage. While the original Spaced had an effortlessly cool vibe, every line of dialogue in this awful pilot reeks of overwriting and reaching to try to approximate something trendy and cool... only fall completely flat. Adding in cutaway scenes in which San Francisco's Transamerica rotates for no real reason or an invisible force appears next to a trolley car do not a smart quirky comedy make. Instead, these remain head-scratching examples of just how wrong the producers (which include Wonderland Sound & Vision's McG) got it and perhaps how little they understood the underlying material in the first place.

Onto the actors then. Never have two actors been more miscast as Josh Lawson (Chandon Pictures) and Sara Rue (Less Than Perfect) than they have been here. As Ben, Lawson is completely unbelievable as a sad sack wannabe comic book artist/slacker... who clearly has spent more time at the gym than at a drafting board. And unfortunately, he doesn't become more believable when he dons trendily nerdy glasses that only make him look slightly more like Matthew Perry in The Ron Clark Story. As for Rue, her Apryl isn't at all sympathetic and merely irritates every time she's on screen; the same goes for Ben's sidekick Bill (Will Sasso) who lacks all of the nuance of the original's Nick Frost. His sole characteristic seems to be that he enjoys (A) playing video games, (B) re-enacting the bullet scene from (ahem) The Matrix, and (C) pretending to shoot people with a gun made out of his hand. Yes, this is real character development time, people.

Supporting characters get just as much short shrift and aren't nearly as imaginative or credible as their counterparts across the pond. Apryl's best friend, a sticky-fingered wannabe thief named Vivienne (Yara Martinez) lacks any defining characteristics whatsoever and remains, at the end of the pilot, still a complete and utter cipher. Tortured artist/downstairs neighbor Christian (Frederico Dordei) is completely predictable in his overwrought "quirkiness." Hell, even landlady Marsha is a wet blanket in this without any of the humor or flair of Julia Deakin's brilliant original.

I feel incredibly happy that this project will never make it to air and never sully the good name of Spaced. Fans of the original UK series have waited for years for a Region 1 DVD release of the series (which will finally be released on July 23rd) and would have been aghast at what American producers did to their beloved series.

Can some international formats transition nicely onto American screens? Sure, just look at NBC's The Office but for every one that does work there are likely ten or so that are mindblowingly awful adaptations of successful series. Spaced distinctly falls into the latter camp and I'm happy to see it buried in some fallout bunker six miles beneath the Earth where it can't infect anyone with its shoddy and unfunny perspective on urban living arrangements. It's as saccharine and artificial as the cream puffs in the painfully dumb "gunfight" that comprises the pilot's conclusion.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular (CBS); Farmer Wants a Wife (CW); Wife Swap (ABC); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX; 8-10 pm)

9 pm:
Criminal Minds (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Farmer Wants a Wife (CW); Supernanny (ABC)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Men in Trees (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

9 pm: MI-5 on BBC America.

If you missed MI-5 (aka Spooks) when it aired on A&E a few years back, you can catch it tonight on BBC America. On tonight's installment ("The Special, Part Two"), Adam rescues Tash (Martine McCutcheon) from the terrorists and realizes he must unmask the mole within MI-5.

10 pm: Top Chef on Bravo.

On tonight's episode ("High Steaks"), the chefs have to clean and butcher a slab of meat during a Quickfire Challenge and then work on the line in a restaurant, creating a series of dishes that exceed chef Tom Colicchio's expectations, and Rick Tramonto of Osteria Di Tramonto, Gale's Coffee Bar, Tramonto's Steak & Seafood, and RT Lounge turns up as a guest judge.


Will said…
Whew! Bullet dodged. The UK series was just too good for anything but a brilliant US version.
Anonymous said…
The US version of the show was completely unrecognizable. Literally.

I'm a huge fan of the original and someone at my office was playing the new version and it took me several minutes before I even realized what it was. When I finally began to comprehend that the train wreck I was watching on screen was, in fact, the Americanized version of my beloved Spaced, it was like the end of Sixth Sense. Oh...he's dead! Thank god this pilot is too.
Unknown said…
Agree with you on pretty much everything. It just seemed forced. And to reference The Matrix? In 2008? And the stuff with the creampuffs? I actually almost got up and turned off the television.
TxGowan said…
Worst? Have you seen the abortive attempts to bring Red Dwarf to US shores? I'm curious how they stack up against one another.
Anonymous said…
I'm actually curious to see that :p
Ted said…
Is there anywhere us hoi palloi could see the famous pilot?

Anonymous said…
Yes, please! I want to see the glorious debacle and throw my tomatoes at it! Mwa ha ha ha!

(Heh heh...well, passive aggressive-ness never did do anyone any good...)
Anonymous said…
Oh dear Lordy I fell a little bit sick at the though........ugh!

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