There’s this great moment I often think of when I need a laugh.
It’s Donald Trump standing in front of a podium, announcing a new branch of the military astutely called Space Force, which will operate, you guessed it, in space.
The president of the United States asks rhetorically ‘where would we be … without space?’
Meanwhile, Buzz Aldrin, one of the first people to ever walk on the moon, standing beside POTUS grimaces and rolls his eyes.
It is perfect comedy. It’s also entirely real.
Unfortunately, Netflix’s new big-budget comedy starring Steve Carell and John Malkovich never reaches this level of hilarity, despite some solid effort.
Space Force, which satirizes the concept of the whole enterprise, never comes close to the absurdity of the real thing, which is its biggest failing.
From the outset, I thought Space Force was basically a sure thing, which is probably what makes the final product such a letdown.
With Steve Carell at the helm and an incredible ensemble cast around him, including: Lisa Kudrow, John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Jimmy O. Yang, Jane Lynch and more, it seemed like it had everything going for it.
But it mostly just falls flat.
Right ingredients, wrong recipe
General Mark Naird (Steve Carell), who is initially hoping to head up the Air Force is tasked with establishing Space Force, just announced by POTUS.
It represents a surprising new prong of a growing, bureaucratic U.S. military, with each of the joint chiefs acting essentially like high school bullies jockeying for position.
Now at the bottom of an elite pecking order, Naird is trying to prove this new branch is worthy of the billions of dollars being spent on it and also posturing to prove his worth as well.
Naird also has the unenviable mission of trying to satisfy POTUS (who’s never really named as Trump, but it’s heavily implied) and his goals of domination in space.
Things go wrong often. Gotta test that new rocket. And if it blows up? well, what’s a few hundred million? Government waste while millions go hungry is so funny.
On top of the sheer stress of his drop, Naird deals with a fidgety and sarcastic head scientist (Malkovich) constantly demanding Space Force changes its priorities to focus on science, a wife (Kudrow) in jail for decades for some unknown reasons and a daughter (Diana Silvers) who is frustrated she had to move away from Washington to the badlands of Colorado.
Carell is unfortunately employing a gruff, raspy tone to his voice as Naird, which is perhaps appropriate for the setting, but ultimately distracting. His character has occasional moments of hilarity, singing classic pop songs to calm down and other quirks, but he’s mostly just a jerk cleaning up his own mess as he defends asinine decision making.
Naird is just not that likeable, which is kind of surprising because Carell’s most well-known comedy character, Michael Scott from The Office (still on Netflix in Canada for now), is one of the most beloved TV characters of all time.
There are a few tender moments between the cast, but they’re too few and far between. Everyone just feels like they’re bouncing around and occasionally interacting with each other. There’s chemistry, but it’s haphazard.
The show also leans on some problematic stand-in characters, such as representative Anabela Ysidro-Campos (Ginger Gonzaga), an obvious AOC doppelgänger who goes after Space Force funding.
Another episode features Edison Jaymes (Kaitlin Olson), a stand-in for Elon Musk, who’s going to revolutionize space travel with a sexy new rocket fuel. It’s a joke that may have sounded good on paper, but just comes off as contrived.
What hurts Space Force is its off-putting tone. It’s played essentially like a scripted drama, with comedy bits thrown in for flavour.
The show really could have benefited a lot from the documentary style that allowed The Office, Parks And Recreation and other modern comedies to feel so tangible and relatable. Again, Space Force is based on a real thing that’s actually sort of happening, but the plot seems so far impossible. A lot of ‘wouldn’t it be funny if’s’ - only the real thing remains even funnier.
The 10-episode run, which I had to push myself to finish, ends on a cliffhanger and based on Netflix’s cryptic rating system it seems to be doing relatively well, so we can expect more to come out at some point. Hopefully the show finds its space legs by then.