General Mark Naird (Steve Carell) is given the honour of heading up America’s expensive new military venture. Problem is, he has a wife in prison, orders from nincompoops and an edict to get boots on the moon ASAP.
There was pandemonium online in December last year when President Trump unveiled the official logo for Space Force, a new $738 billion branch of the US military, and it turned out to be extremely similar to the logo for Star Trek’s Starfleet. (“We are expecting some royalties from this,” tweeted George Takei.) But inspiration has gone the other way too, with this new Netflix sci-fi series based on — and named after — Trump’s dream of astro-domination. Given that logline and the comedy calibre involved, you’d expect a raucous send-up with all kinds of intergalactic zaniness. Unfortunately, like its namesake, Space Force feels like it’s been only half thought through, despite all the money chucked at it.
The big headline is that it’s the reunion of Steve Carell and The Office showrunner Greg Daniels. But the bench is ludicrously deep. John Malkovich appears, as advisor to Carell’s General Naird, in his first ever TV comedy. Ben Schwartz plays social media guru ‘Fuck Tony’ (unlike The Office, this is a show with a lot of swearing). And such weapons-grade comedians as Jane Lynch, Fred Willard and Patrick Warburton fill tiny roles. There’s serious talent behind the camera as well, with Paul ‘Paddington’ King shooting the pilot. Helicopters, space-rockets, huge desert vistas — the production values are star-high.
It feels like a show that doesn’t know whether it wants to be a farce or a sitcom.
It’s odd, then, that the whole endeavour ends up feeling so aimless and toothless. The big laughs that could surely come from the premise — a hapless quasi-NASA being ordered around by an unseen boss (Trump is not named, but referred to throughout as “POTUS”, and keeps sending Naird petulant text messages) — never really arrive, despite a stand-out episode midway through involving a chimp and a dog stranded in space. And rather than a Veep-style quip-fest, Space Force wants us to get involved emotionally with its characters, basing bulky subplots around Naird’s daughter (Booksmart’s charming Diana Silvers) rebelling against her dad, and Naird’s relationship with his imprisoned wife (a sorely underused Lisa Kudrow). It never really gels tonally, and there is such a vast array of supporting characters we’re ping-ponged between that it fails to really build up the dynamics between any of them. There’s a Russian ‘observer’, for instance, who is introduced early on and seems poised to play a key role, but winds up dropping out of the story without adding much.
There are bright spots. Adopting a gruffer than usual voice and occasionally breaking into renditions of The Beach Boys’ ‘Kokomo’, Carell is fun as a military man pulled in eight different directions at once. It’s enjoyable to hear Malkovich bounce off him as an exasperated boffin. And there are goofy minor characters, such as the cretinous astronaut recruit who asks, “Have you addressed the possible hazard of werewolves on the moon, in their prime environment?” But overall it feels like a show that doesn’t know whether it wants to be a farce or a sitcom, which may shoot for the moon but doesn’t get there.
A disappointingly sedate and oddly structured show that tries to cram in too much, while squandering the potential lunar lunacy promised by its premise.