SPACED. (1999-2001) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


SPACED. (1999-2001) DIRECTED BY EDGAR WRIGHT. CREATED AND DIRECTED BY SIMON PEGG AND JESSICA STEVENSON. STARRING SIMON PEGG, JESSICA STEVENSON, NICK FROST, MARK HEAP, KATY CARMICHAEL AND JULIA DEAKIN.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This is a very British sitcom, of both the satirical and surreal kind, about a group of twenty-somethings who have watched a huge amount of television and films and played an enormous number of computer games in their time. Ditto their creators. It’s only just come to my attention, twenty-odd years after its conception, and I’m glad it has.

I really enjoyed it and found it entertaining, except where they were basing storylines on things I hadn’t personally watched and didn’t care for, like ROBOT WARS. Also, believe it or not, I don’t much dig the whole STAR WARS franchise, although I did laugh at the bits where Simon Pegg’s character had been traumatised by the ‘90s trilogy of prequels, was it, that kicked off with THE PHANTOM MENACE. I know a lot of die-hard fans had trouble accepting Jar Jar Binks into the STAR WARS family.

Oh, and I hated the bits of SPACED that were all about guns and paintballing and masculine pursuits like that, although I loved the character of Mike, who’s in the Territorial Army and positively lives for guns and tanks and military manoeuvres and such-like. But let’s go back and start at the beginning, shall we? I’ve heard that that’s a very good place to start…

Simon Pegg (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, WORLD’S END, PAUL) plays Tim Bisley, an occasionally unemployed graphic artist who works in Bilbo Baggins’s comic book shop. Bilbo is played by Bill Bailey, by the way, the co-star, along with Dylan Moran, of the superb BLACK BOOKS which came along shortly after SPACED.

Tim is very boyish-looking and even more boyish in manner. All he really wants to do is go on the Play-station with Mike, his best buddy who’s in the TA’s, and simulate battles with him, whether on the computer or physically, on and around the couch.

Mike is played by Nick Frost, by the way, Pegg’s partner in the Cornetto trilogy of movies, and he- Mike- once stole a tank while in the TA’s and tried to, ahem, invade Paris. Yes, I said Paris, and, no, I don’t know why…

Tim puts Mike and their comic-book-and-movie-related conversations and re-enactments ahead of anyone or anything else in his life, and yet he’s still surprised when his girlfriend Sarah dumps him for his supposed friend, Duane Benzie. Duane is a real man, as opposed to Tim’s very obviously still-a-boy-and-likely-to-remain-so-unless-he-gets-some-kind-of-rude-awakening persona.

Maybe Sarah doesn’t want a boyfriend who takes recreational drugs until he hallucinates and puts skateboarding and science fiction conventions ahead of her in the pecking order. I can’t say I blame her. There comes a point in every woman’s life when she needs a man, a real man, and not a lad who wants to make a working robot to impress his mates more than he wants to be with you

Daisy Steiner, played by comic genius Jessica Stevenson (THE ROYLE FAMILY, BLACK BOOKS), is an unemployed wanna-be writer living in a squat when she meets Tim by chance in a café. Tim is homeless now too after being dumped by Sarah, so the two of them, Tim and Daisy, decide to get a flat together, which would solve their immediate housing problems.

They end up pretending to be a ‘professional couple’ in order to rent a flat owned by their new landlady, Marsha Klein, a game old gal who’s got two ex-husbands and a bit of a wild past life under her belt. She hasn’t too much to do these days and so takes a keen motherly interest in the lives of her tenants.

Marsha has a bolshy teenage daughter called Amber whom we never properly meet, and she’s (Marsha) a chain-smoking alcoholic who’s almost certainly had sexual relations with Brian, her younger lodger; he’s a conceptual artist who specialises in painting his own angst, lol, and possesses very little in the way of social skills.

Marsha is probably my favourite character, next to Daisy. She’s been there and done that- just ask Mick Jagger and the lads!- and wouldn’t mind finding a little love again before she’s tossed unceremoniously onto the romantic scrapheap, as happens to us all at some stage. Could love in fact be right under her nose, in the form of a certain Mike…?

Daisy and Tim quickly settle into their new surroundings. They get an adorable Scottie dog called Colin, Mike is round all the time calling for his soulmate Tim to come out and play, and Daisy’s shallow fashion victim bezzie mate Twist falls for Brian, much to poor Marsha’s distress.

Tim gets fired from his job at the comic book store for refusing to accept THE PHANTOM MENACE into the STAR WARS franchise, and Daisy also becomes unemployed after writing a few pieces for magazines. She wants to be a writer, but she can’t seem to just get her arse in that chair in front of that typewriter (typewriter???) and bloody well write something.

I feel her pain, lol. I’ve hardly typed a word myself since this wretched heatwave began. Any excuse to bunk off. First it was the pandemic, then it was the American presidential election, now it’s the ruddy heat, haha. What will it be next? Global warming…? Could be, could be…

Tim gets a new girlfriend called Sophie, but, typical bloke that he is, he fails to notice the feelings that Daisy clearly has for him, bubbling away just under the surface of her bright ‘n’ breezy exterior.

Will he see what’s so obviously right under his nose, or will he blow it and just stand by and watch Daisy as she slouches sadly off to Colwyn Bay to a job she doesn’t want, because she thinks there’s no future for her at the house in Meteor Street…?

The series is bursting with references to films and popular culture, everything from PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK to THE SHINING, from THE ROYLE FAMILY to TRAINSPOTTING, from THE MATRIX to, of course, the much-mentioned STAR WARS and all its bright shiny constellations, including THE PHANTOM MENACE and the despised Jar Jar Binks, lol. Some references I didn’t get because I’m not a bloke who spends his life playing computer games or reading graphic novels, but the ones I got I loved.

The familiar faces you might recognise popping up as one-off characters include Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith from THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, Ricky Gervais, David Walliams, Bill Bailey- him that won STRICTLY COME DANCING in 2020!- Kevin Eldon and, of course, Peter Serafinowicz as the deliciously deeply-voiced Duane Benzie. Remember when he talked Fran to orgasm in BLACK BOOKS once? He’s one of those blokes about whom it is said that they could recite the phone book and birds would find it sexy…

SPACED is a lovely warm nostalgic comedy with some very clever writing from two people who clearly love films and the horror genre, and, quite honestly, it livened up an exceptionally dull week in this rather confusing post-Covid (or, are we post-Covid yet?) world we’re inhabiting at the moment.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m taking my entertainment where I can get it these days. Every day could be your flamin’ last. So head off to Meteor Street and see who’s about. At the very least, there’ll be a bottle of something cold and wet standing open…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

BLACK BOOKS. (2000-2004) A FANTASTIC SITCOM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

BLACK BOOKS. (2000-2004) CREATED BY DYLAN MORAN AND GRAHAM LINEHAN. WRITTEN BY DYLAN MORAN, GRAHAM LINEHAN, ARTHUR MATTHEWS, KEVIN CECIL AND ANDY RILEY.

STARRING DYLAN MORAN, BILL BAILEY AND TAMSIN GREIG.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘I ate all your bees…!’

‘Get back in the worm…!’

‘I only knew her as Ma…!’

‘I want a summer girlfriend.’

‘Military history is to your right…’

‘Have you got The Little Book Of Calm…?’

‘Half Iago, half Fu Manchu, all bastard…!’

‘I can’t help it. He looks like a horse in a man costume…!’

I bloody love this British sitcom. It’s the funniest thing since FATHER TED, which is no mere coincidence as, even though it’s the brainchild of Irish comedian Dylan Moran, it was co-created and co-written by Graham Linehan of FATHER TED.

Yes, yes, I know Graham Linehan is persona non grata at the moment because of things he has said about the transgender movement, but that won’t stop me from enjoying his best work.

BLACK BOOKS is hysterically funny. When I was watching it for the first time, it literally felt to me like discovering FATHER TED back in the ’90s.

When I saw the episode of FATHER TED in which Graham Norton as Fr. Noel Furlong exhorts a caravan-full of young people from the local youth club to start ‘Riverdancing’ and the caravan overturns with their efforts, I laughed till I cried. Not since discovering BLACK BOOKS during the 2020 lockdown has that happened again.

BLACK BOOKS, set in a scruffy London second-hand bookshop (so dirty, in fact, that it abounds with wildlife, a running joke), is the story of the interaction of three main characters in and around this bookshop.

Bernard Black, the proprietor, is ‘that grumpy Irish bastard’ who rarely moves out of his chair behind the desk in the shop. Bernard is to bookshops what Basil Fawlty is to hotel management.

He smokes, drinks and reads non-stop (except for the smoking, I thoroughly approve!), while seeming to hate every aspect of book retail: ordering, buying and replacing books, shop maintenance, book events, the customers. He hates the customers worst of all, and can often be seen throwing them willy-nilly out of the shop at short notice, or even getting them to ‘mind the shop’ while he nips out for a boozy lunch.

Manny Bianco, played by Bill Bailey who’s currently dancing up a storm in STRICTLY COME DANCING on BBC One, comes to work in the shop after accidentally swallowing ‘The Little Book of Calm’ which he purchased in Bernard’s shop.

Bernard desperately needs an accountant to help him to do his books, and Manny hates his current job in an office. Over the course of a drunken night out, Bernard offers Manny a job in the bookshop and a room over the shop to live in. Manny eagerly accepts…

Manny is a breath of fresh air around the shop. A free spirit who wears Hawaiian shirts and sandals, his long-haired and bearded Jesus-like appearance is constantly criticised and made fun of by the rude, anti-social Bernard, who’s of more conservative appearance.

After his first full day in the shop, Bernard fires poor Manny for getting on really well with the customers, selling loads of books and prettying up the shop. You can see what kind of establishment Bernard is trying to run here, can’t you…?

Bernard is persuaded to keep Manny on by Fran Katzenjammer, his best- and only- friend. She’s a thirty-something London woman set in the Bridget Jones mould, who owns the gift shop next door, THE NIFTY GIFTY, until it goes out of business and she’s cast once more into the job market.

Fran and Bernard may have slept together once, but have decided to bury that incident in the past and stay ‘just friends’ instead. Fran immediately takes to Manny as the third point in their newly-established triangle.

She’s not at all afraid to say what she thinks, and she’s the one who bangs Manny and Bernard’s heads together, figuratively speaking, though sometimes literally, when they’re having one of their many fallings-out and differences of opinion.

Manny dotes on Bernard and willingly slaves for him, but even slaves have their limits sometimes, like in the episode where Manny decides to ‘run away’ because of Bernard’s cruel treatment of him, and Fran and Bernard have to go down the cop-shop to report the disappearance of their ‘son…’

‘You could become a terrible event and happen to him…!’

Fran keeps the two lads hilariously updated on her dating woes and forays into the world of gainful employment, and both she and Manny together contrive to keep Bernard from slipping through the cracks of the shop into total anti-social ‘loner-ness.’

They’re good for each other, the three of them, although they enable each others’ smoking and drinking somefink rotten. Still, that’s not our problem, lol. We just want the laughs…!

I love the episode where Manny ‘betrays’ Bernard by going to work for Goliath Books next door and Bernard spies on him through a hole in the wall. Manny doesn’t stay there long, however, as his boss, Evan, brilliantly played by Simon SHAUN OF THE DEAD Pegg, is a tightly-wound control freak who wants Manny, horror of horrors, to shave off his beard and become a clone of Evan’s and his cookie-cutter staff…! Even Bernard won’t stand for that. The very idea! No-one tells Manny what to do but Bernard, lol.

I also love Julian Rhind-Tutt as the ‘charming,’ flowery-sentenced travel writer whom Fran and Manny worship but whom Bernard scathingly condemns as ‘Captain Pants…!’ ‘I bet I can open any page in this book and find a picture of him, sitting smugly on top of a Jeep…!’ (Before himself becoming ‘immolated’ behind a wall of said travel writer and explorer’s charm, of course.)

Other familiar faces that crop up in the sitcom include Annette Crosbie from ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE, Martin Freeman from everything ever made, Johnny Vegas as Fran’s corrupt landlord, Omid Djalili as a pornographic photographer and Rob Brydon. Graham Linehan pops up too in a couple of surreal, Father Ted-style cameos.

There are many more fantastic episodes (eighteen in all; six in each of the three series), for example, the one where Bernard and Manny co-write a children’s book together while Fran goes on a disastrous hen weekend but then have to destroy it because it’s ‘too good,’ or the one in which Manny’s annoying parents, Moo-Ma and Moo-Pa, come to stay with their son in the shop for a few days, and Bernard threatens to call the police if he gets so much as a whiff of ‘nonogenarian hanky-panky…!’ Oh, Bernard, you absolute crank, you.

I’ll leave you with Dylan Moran’s thoughts on real-life second-hand bookshops, which apparently he views as ‘doomed enterprises.’

Running a second-hand bookshop is a guaranteed commercial failure. It’s a whole philosophy. There were bookshops that I frequented and I was always struck by the loneliness and doggedness of these men who piloted this death ship.’

Ironically, I’ve always wanted to run my own second-hand bookshop. I think I’d feel really at home amongst the dust and tattered covers and hidden lives, waiting to be uncovered. But now I’m thinking I might just leave it…

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.

SHAUN OF THE DEAD. (2004) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

SHAUN OF THE DEAD. (2004) DIRECTED BY EDGAR WRIGHT. WRITTEN BY EDGAR WRIGHT AND SIMON PEGG.

STARRING SIMON PEGG, NICK FROST, KATE ASHFIELD, PENELOPE WILTON, BILL NIGHY, DYLAN MORAN, LUCY DAVIS, PETE SERAFINOWICZ AND JESSICA STEVENSON.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Motherfucker…

Don’t forget to kill Phil!

The front door is open. AGAIN…!

We’re coming to get you, Barbara!

Shaun to Ed- D’you want anything from the shop?

Ed- Cornetto.

Bill Nighy’s character on being bitten by a zombie- I ran it under the cold tap.

This is my kids’ favourite movie of all time, and yet I resisted watching it until recently, if you can believe it, because I’m such a film snob, mostly preferring ‘pure’ horror to spoofs-slash-horror comedy. But SHAUN OF THE DEAD is bloody brilliant!

It’s the warmest, cuddliest most feelgood zombie film ever written, despite the lashings of gore and violence, and it left me with such a good (hot?) fuzzy feeling inside that I immediately wanted to write about it and tell the whole world my opinion of a seventeen-year-old movie, lol. Talk about late to the bleedin’ party!

The first film in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (HOT FUZZ (2007) and THE WORLD’S END (2013), it was based on such films as George A. Romero’s own trio of classic zombie movies, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) and DAY OF THE DEAD (1985).

It tells the story of Shaun, marvellously played by Simon Pegg, a twenty-nine-year-old Londoner who works in a shit job selling electrical goods. His girlfriend Liz is breaking up with him because she thinks he’s immature and never wants to do anything different or go anywhere new. As he spends every night in the Winchester pub with his soulmate, his bezzie mate Ed (played by an equally wonderful Nick Frost), this accusation might just be true.

Shaun hates his step-dad, the mild-mannered Philip (Bill Nighy), and is always fighting with his mum Barbara (Penelope Wilton) because of this. He also hates Liz’s mate David (David’s a twat!), one half of the couple David-and-Dianne, and he’s not getting on with his housemate Pete, because Pete thinks that Shaun and Ed are a couple of losers who waste their time on the Playstation or down the Winchester.

So, you see, by the time the Zombie Apocalypse begins, Shaun has been made to feel really bad about his life by Other People. I say Other People, because Shaun and Ed were both perfectly happy about the nice comfortable rut they were in before the Apocalypse (Ed still is!) until Other People started sticking their oars in.

But the Apocalypse, which the horribly hungover Shaun and Ed are quite slow to recognise for what it is, might just provide Shaun, whose pens have had the utterly banal bad taste to leak through the pocket of his white, short-sleeved work shirt, with a golden opportunity to display the proactive leadership skills that have hitherto lain dormant in his nature.

Can he win back Liz’s love (and, let’s face it, they’re perfick for each other) while simultaneously saving her, his mum, his step-dad, his bezzie mate Ed and David-and-Dianne as well from the Zombie Apocalypse? Will the previously reviled Winchester provide the gang, after all, with the fortress-like security they need to keep them safe from the onslaught of slavering zombies? It’s all to play for, folks.

Highlights include Shaun and Ed having a deadly serious conversation in the middle of a zombie attack about which records to chuck- or not to chuck- at the shambling, slobbering brain-dead brain-munchers, and the gang nipping over garden fences trying to get to the Winchester before the zombies do and discovering their friend Yvonne (played by the brilliant Jessica Stevenson, aka Cheryl from THE ROYLE FAMILY) leading an exactly parallel group to their own one but in a different direction.

The parallel group, though they don’t get to say much, features well-known comedy actors such as Matt Lucas (LITTLE BRITAIN), Reece Shearsmith (THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN), Martin Freeman (NATIVITY, THE HOBBIT) and Tamsin Greig (BLACK BOOKS, alongside its writer-creator Dylan Moran).

I also love that ordinary normal people like ourselves are portrayed as zombies as we go through the frequently mind-numbingly boring motions of everyday life. No wonder people like Liz sometimes yearn for a complete change of scene or direction, or even of watering-hole. Just to do something a little bit different, for once! We’ve all felt that on occasion, all been there.

I also love that scene in the garden where Shaun and Ed think the zombie lady is merely another Sunday morning still-drunk hangover victim, and also the sheer normal-ness of the Asian-run corner shop and the perfectly ordinary street where they live.

The separate scenes between Shaun and his step-dad, in which Bill Nighy as Philip tries touchingly to impart how tough it is to be a dad, never mind a step-dad, and also between Shaun and his lovely mumsy mum, are part and parcel of what gives SHAUN OF THE DEAD its enormous heart.

But the central love has got to be between, not Shaun and Liz, although they undoubtedly do love each other, but Shaun and Ed, his best friend. They love each other the way only real, true best friends can love each other, and each of their two final scenes together in the film had me in floods of tears.

I was laughing more than I was crying, though, because the comedy in the film is seriously well-written. Nearly two decades after it was conceived, penned and committed to celluloid, I finally get to watch it. And pronounce it practically perfick.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.