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Steve Carell as General Naird, and series creator Greg Daniels, on the set of Space Force.
Fred Willard, who passed away in May, plays Steve Carell’s character’s father in Space Force.
Most creators of television would be happy to get one show to air. This month, Greg Daniels has two.
The man behind King of the Hill , the American reboot of The Office and the political satire Parks and Recreation is also creator, producer and occasional director of Upload , an Amazon series in which a terminally injured man uploads his consciousness into a virtual afterlife. Its 10 episodes debuted May 1, and it’s already been picked up for a second season.
Daniels’ other new release is Space Force , the highly anticipated Netflix comedy starring Steve Carell as General Mark Naird, tapped to head the new, sixth branch of the U.S. armed forces that the president created, seemingly on a whim, in March of 2018. The cast includes John Malkovich as a Strangelovian scientist, Ben Schwartz from Parks & Rec as the force’s social media director, and Diana Silvers as the general’s daughter. The first 10 episodes are available on May 29.
We’re treating it like we had the same jumping-off point, but this is the slightly parallel universe version of Space Force
“I’ve been working on Upload since 2014,” Daniels says when asked about the coincidence of storming two streaming services at once. “They both happened to come out in the same month, which is crazy.”
Space Force , like its real-world namesake, came together rather more quickly. Daniels and Carell had been kicking around ideas for a workplace comedy when Netflix producer Blair Fetter suggested something around Space Force.
“Immediately I was picturing him as a general,” Daniels recalls. “And it felt good because he’s a person of great integrity but also who sees the humorous side of things. And he’s the most gifted comic actor you could ever ask for. We started pitching out very funny backstories and scenes immediately, and the ideas flowed very easily.”
With little else to go on but a name – the actual Space Force wasn’t officially founded until December 2019 – Daniels nevertheless dove into research. “I got the Air Force handbook and we read that. We visited SpaceX a couple of times and talked to their engineers and the president of that company.”
They also hired Peter Marquez, former Space Policy Director in the Bush and Obama administrations, as their space advisor. Bobby Telatovich, a former Navy officer, joined the crew as a writers’ assistant, and also got a character named after him – Alex Sparrow plays Yuri “Bobby” Telatovich, a dodgy Russian “observer” at the base.
Daniels didn’t let the possible activities of the real Space Force concern him. “We’re treating it like we had the same jumping-off point, but this is the slightly parallel universe version of Space Force,” he says. “The point of our show is character comedy, and kind of a what-if situation of trying to imagine what it would be like for the general who has taken on this very audacious and implausible goal of boots on the moon by 2024. It seemed like he would be a character who was over his depth, outside his comfort zone, and that would be funny for Steve to play.”
If anything, he’s more concerned with how to handle the subject of the pandemic. “We ended the first season in such a way that when we come back to the second it’s going to be in real time and continuous, so I think we’re probably not going to incorporate [the pandemic] as a story, for a while at least,” he says. “But it’s such a weird question that I think everybody who is making any sort of work now has to decide.”
One bonus of the streaming-service model of production is that viewers will almost certainly watch all 10 episodes in order. “When The Office was at its peak, you still couldn’t count on everyone having seen every episode,” says Daniels. “Now you have an expectation. I can totally guarantee that the ending episode will be watched after people watch the episodes where I’m setting stuff up for the end.”
He calls the result “a five-hour movie,” with a crew to match, including two-time Oscar nominee Carter Burwell as composer, and episodes directed by Paul King ( Paddington ), Daina Reid ( The Handmaid’s Tale ), Dee Rees ( Mudbound ) and others. “The scope of the show is very big. It required a much bigger canvas than a little office in Scranton in an office park.”
Space Force wrapped its first season in January, which means it features the final TV role of Fred Willard, who died of natural causes on May 15. He has a recurring role in the first season as the general’s doddering father.
“He was a very inspirational comedy genius,” says Daniels, “especially to anybody who ever did anything improvisational.”
He remembers watching Willard in a scene that appears in the first episode of Space Force . “He did the scene terrifically that we’d written, and then we suggested that he do some improvisation. And he kind of lit up, and did this wonderful four-minute improv that we used in the show.
“And all the crew were biting their shirts to not laugh during it, and then at the end they put down their cameras and gave him a round of applause, which you never see on a set. It was very cool. The work that he did for Space Force was just top-notch, even though he was 86 years old. He’ll be missed greatly.”
Space Force debuts on Netflix on May 29.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020