General Mark Naird, character from Steve Carell in the new Netflix sitcom Space force, is not Michael Scott. Carell, who reformed with Office showrunner Greg Daniels for the series says it clearly with the voice of Naird, a gritty grunt reminiscent of Batman by Christian Bale. It’s captivating for those who remember Michael’s enthusiastic tenor, but it makes its point. When the Dunder Mifflin area manager is a ridiculous man who does boring work, General Naird is a boring man who does a ridiculous job: leading the United States Space Force.
Daniels’ new series follows General Naird as he attempts to follow the President’s orders to get “boots on the moon by 2024”. Although he laughed at the job first, Naird said to his wife, Maggie, “I can be flexible if asked. He accepted the job and moved his family, including teenage Erin (Diana Silvers), to a secret Space Force base in Colorado. There, General Naird knocks his head with his chief scientist, Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich) as he carries out his mission to militarize space.
With Office directed to NBC’s next Peacock streaming service next year, Space force arrives with the aura of a relaxed sitcom standby looking at the background. But while the sitcom is (mostly) enjoyable, it has little in common with the previous Daniels and Carell team, apart from the duo’s involvement. In this first season, the stakes are too high and the references too political for the series to become a comforting comfort show like Office (and other NBC sitcoms like friends or Parks and recreation.)
This is not to say that Space Force is neither funny nor convincing. After an episode of first rock, Space force settles in an offbeat rhythm: Naird is confronted with a situation which he is not equipped to manage, Dr. Mallory does not agree with his solution, a conflict ensues. (To be honest, it is rare for a sitcom to have a good pilot – it’s difficult to introduce characters, set up storylines, and set a tone while describing jokes.)
In practice, Space force is closer to HBO Veep than Office. The two shows are hybrids of political satire and workplace comedy. Their biggest conflicts stem from the main characters’ frustrations with Washington, combined with an obstinate desire to do things their own way, often despite the advice of contrary experts. But at the same time Veep Showrunner Armando Iannucci is more than happy to portray Selina Meyer and her team as universally terrible people (the show is famous for its raunchy and insulting insults), Daniels is more sympathetic to his characters. Naird is described as rigid and bull-headed, but also as an overwhelmed leader who tries to do the right thing.
The most memorable scene in the first episode is where Naird rushes into his office, seeming close to a panic attack. He takes a few deep breaths, then starts singing “Beach Boys’ Kokomo” for himself, only to start dancing unrestrained. Once he has let everything out, he comes back to attention and walks over to his staff.
The show is at its best when it happily turns into the absurd. This is the strike zone of Carell’s comedy, but because he plays such a buttoned-up character, Daniels and the Space force writers must find other opportunities for nonsense. In the second episode, Naird attempts to communicate with an astronaut monkey recently abandoned in space, with an astronaut dog. As Carell plays him in front, the image of him screaming at a CGI monkey, and Malkovich openly ridiculing the idea, is unreservedly hilarious.
Carell and Malkovich playing straight men give the supporting characters plenty of opportunities to shine. Ben Schwartz is perfectly interpreted as director of media for Space Force, the impenetrable name Fuck Tony Scarapiducci. (My best guess is that this is a game on Fuck Jerry.) F. Tony is much more grounded (and less lovable) than Schwartz Parks and recreation the character Jean-Ralphio, but he has a similar nervous and exciting energy which contrasts well with the general stoicism of General Naird.
Tawny Newsome, frequent Comedy Bang Bang podcast guest and host Yo, is this racist ?, appears as the most interesting and friendliest character in the series, an ambitious young Space Force captain named Angela. In her first appearance, Angela defies an order from General Naird, leading to reluctantly respect between them. His budding relationship with scientist Dr. Chen (Silicon Valley‘S Jimmy O. Yang) is a charming version of the trope which wants or not. With tons of charisma and sharp comic timing, Newsome could easily direct his own show.
One of the funniest scenes on the show is a little where two of the maintenance workers charged with establishing a lunar colony, interpreted by the stars of alternative comedy Chris Gethard and Aparna Nancherla, question Dr. Mallory on the details of their mission. The two bounce back and forth with questions like, “Which moon are we going to?”, “Should we reproduce?” And “When is Christmas on the moon?” Gethard and Nancherla deliver the jokes with intense sincerity, to which Malkovich responds with resigned frustration. It’s the first exchange that made me laugh out loud and embody Space force at its best, the most ridiculous.
The show is less capable as a political travesty, where its only point seems to be “Boy, this president certainly has some stupid ideas, huh? Although explicitly based on an initiative pushed by the current administration, President Trump is never mentioned by name. Instead, the authors make wink-wink-nudge-nudge references that are too obvious to be funny. “POTUS wants to make changes,” said the Secretary of Defense, “he will tweet about it in five minutes.”
Although Trump never appears and is referenced only obliquely, Space force directly parodies other famous names, but how unclear is ultimate. In one episode, Kaitlin Olson (It’s always nice in Philadelphia) featured guest as an entrepreneur obviously based on Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos accused of fraud. While Olson makes a strange, good impression of Holmes’ intense affect, the character does not serve any purpose in the larger story, nor does he significantly comment on the entrepreneur or Theranos. Likewise, an analogue of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is called “the angry young deputy”, but the series does not decide whether the categorization is condescending and reductive or exact.
The overtly political premise is to attract attention, but Daniels never feels completely at ease in this setting. In all honesty, he didn’t know when he presented the show that Space Force was going to become a reality outside of Trump’s Twitter feed. But once that administration established Space Force as an official branch of the U.S. military, the series was forced to take on the burden of parody rather than a silly premise inspired by something the president once did speak.
Space force is not next Office, but it’s a worthy workplace sitcom. Although the pilot is pretty bad and there are a few episodes that seem unstable and useless, a lot of good jokes and a few moments of real brilliance – episode 8, “Conjugal visit”, is only an episode of categorically solid television – proves Daniels and Carell are obvious masters of the genre. Sitcoms rely so much on character relationships that it usually takes a while to find a groove, so it’s worth seeing what the creator and the team can do with season 2 as the series leaves. atmosphere Office to find its place in the streaming world.
Space force season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.
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