The first episode of the second series of Channel 4's sitcom, Spaced, opens with a sweeping pan across a silhouette of the London skyline at night. It is accompanied by the atmospheric music of George Gershwin and a sultry voiceover intoning: "Chapter One. She adored London, a city as passionate and beautiful as she was - no, no, too derivative." It's a neat pastiche of Woody Allen's Manhattan and underlines just how innovative this critically-acclaimed sitcom is. You can hardly imagine an episode of 2.4 Children starting with, say, a homage to Battleship Potemkin. Written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, Spaced is a one-off - a series replete with all those qualities thought to be no longer on speaking terms with sitcom: wit, imagination, fantasy, oh yes, and laugh-out-loud funny gags. It is a pointed riposte to the almost weekly op-ed columns wailing: "Why, oh, why are today's sitcoms all rubbish?" The series, which zooms in on the self-deluding dreams of Tim (Pegg) and Daisy (Stevenson), a pair of flat-sharing twentysomething slackers, has this tang of originality because the writers come to the genre with fresh, unjaded eyes. Picking at a bowl of fruit in a chic, glass-walled conference- room at Channel 4 headquarters, the pair reflect on the inspiration behind Spaced.
"A lot of people think sitcom is easy," reckons Pegg, who is sporting a vivid blond barnet and a goatee Jimmy Hill would be proud of. "They say, `You just follow the magic formula: you write so many gags per minute, you have a studio audience and a box set'. But we wanted to get away from that. Each new generation needs to subvert convention. You can't rest on the same old formula. You mustn't be afraid to risk change, you must embrace it. All we've tried to do with Spaced is something different." The writers were prompted by a strong feeling that their generation was not being properly represented by such hackneyed flat-share comedies as Game On or Babes in the Wood. "We felt that we weren't being spoken to by sitcoms of that kind," says Stevenson, who is looking impossibly glamorous in a new short haircut. "Those dispossessed twentysomething years hadn't been portrayed accurately before. The thing we wanted to do was communicate with people of our age, and to do that we had to stand out."
Like many close partnerships, they have a habit of continuing each other's thought- processes. Now it's Pegg's turn again: "We just write about where we are in life. It's a democratising process - like when stand-ups ask, `Have you ever noticed?' and everyone in the audience nods and thinks, `Yes, I have'. In the last series of Spaced, we did an episode about clubbing, and young people in the street came up to congratulate us for it. They loved the fact that their world had been shown without the need for a moralistic lesson about not taking ecstasy. …