Plot: A decorated pilot with dreams of running the Air Force, four-star general Mark R. Naird (Steve Carell) is thrown for a loop when he finds himself tapped to lead the newly formed sixth branch of the US Armed Forces: Space Force. Skeptical but dedicated, Mark uproots his family and moves to a remote base in Colorado where he and a colorful team of scientists and “Spacemen” are tasked by the White House with getting American boots on the moon (again) in a hurry and achieving total space dominance.
Review: Few series are as beloved as NBC’s The Office. The series launched the career of Steve Carell from TV star to big screen headliner (and Oscar nominee). While fans get excited every time the cast and creators of that series reunite, the new Netflix series Space Force represents an all new show for fans to invest in and get excited about. Space Force is created by Steve Carell alongside The Office showrunner Greg Daniels and takes the newest branch of the military, created by President Donald Trump, and mines it for laughs. Before you get up in arms and think this is a liberal Trump-bashing opportunity, Space Force is a workplace sitcom that echoes the sentimentality of The Office and Parks and Recreation but within a very timely context. Yes, it pokes some fun at the President but does not do it with any sort of agenda.
Space Force follows newly promoted four-star General Mark Naird (Steve Carell) who is tasked with building the newest branch of the military. Per POTUS (he is always referred to this way, never by name), the United States needs boots on the Moon. Dejected, Mark tries to make the best of his new role amidst a team of oddballs and a crew of “spacemen” ranging from high school recruits to older astronauts. On board are Naird’s assistant, General Brad Gregory (Don Lake), social media liasion F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz), pilot Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome), scientist Dr. Chen Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang) and civilian contractor Kelly King (Jessica St. Clair). Naird’s scientist counterpart is Dr. Adrian Mallory played by the great John Malkovich in a deadpan role that is one of his best performances in years. At home, Naird’s wife (Lisa Kudrow) and daughter (Diana Silvers) are not fans of moving far from their Washington D.C. home, adding complexity to Mark’s already strained work-life balance.
Space Force plays like a blend of The Office with HBO’s political comedy Veep. Both series take a look at contemporary government and the military industrial complex with a sarcastic and satirical eye, but viewers will find a lot of similarities with Carell and Daniels’ previous workplace comedy. Naird shares a lot in common with Michael Scott as they are both, deep down, kind-hearted individuals even if their decision making sometimes can be questionable. The dynamic between Steve Carell and John Malkovich is a highlight of the series as the opposite approaches they bring to Space Force’s mission allow them to butt heads but also find moments of shared goals. It also helps that both actors are seasoned dramatic performers while also possessing excellent comic timing.
As co-creator, Steve Carell knows what worked on The Office with his character while Greg Daniels knows how to bring a diverse cast of comedic talent together. The problem with this series, like HBO’s recent Avenue 5, is that it doesn’t always have a balanced tone. Some episodes are more satirical like the ones featuring Ginger Gonzaga as an Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez doppleganger or an episode focused on FLOTUS wanting to design new uniforms for Space Force. Twitter jokes aplenty populate those episodes which verge on mocking Trump directly. The episodes that just try to be a workplace comedy that happens to involve the military are the ones that clicked for me. With a short, premium cable season of 10 episodes, and talented filmmakers like PADDINGTON’s Paul KIng and MUDBOUND’s Dee Rees behind the camera, Space Force needed to make every episode count and they just missed the mark.
There are some moments that do fall flat, however. While the dance sequence set to “Kokomo” as seen in the trailer is really funny, Steve Carell has multiple singing moments peppered through the series. Some of these become fairly repetitive and by the sixth episode, I was finding it wearing a bit thin. Some characters are much more likeable than others and Noah Emmerich‘s General Kick Grabaston serves as a great opponent to Carell’s Naird. The entire cast works well as an ensemble but sometimes the jokes seem to linger a bit too long. But, the fact that this series airs on Netflix rather than a network means we get a good amount of profanity and subject matter ranging from rat diarrhea to conjugal visits. In short, this is not a show you will likely be sharing with your kids but it also doesn’t have to rely on vulgarity just to be funny.
Space Force is definitely much better than I expected it to be and will certainly make many of you laugh, but it is unfortunately just not good enough to earn a spot alongside The Office. It does have some of the best work Steve Carell and John Malkovich have done in some time. It also has a bittersweet final performance by the great Fred Willard that just about sums up how he could make any role a standout. Space Force is a series I wouldn’t mind getting more of in the future, especially if Carell and Malkovich are committed to returning. Like the military branch it portrays, Space Force is ridiculous, imperfect, but still worth a watch.
Space Force premieres May 29th on Netflix.