Starring: Steve Carell, John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Tawny Newsome
Writers/Creators: Steve Carell, Greg Daniels
Director: Paul King
Executive Producers: Steve Carell, Greg Daniels, Howard Klein
It’s clear from watching one episode of Space Force that this series is a lot of things: a workplace sitcom, a family dramedy, a satire of the American military, and what could be a brilliant showcase for some of the funniest people on the planet. Unfortunately, the pilot episode is more jack-of-all-trades than a master of one.
This ambitious new comedy stars Steve Carell as Mark Naird, a newly-promoted four-star general who is appointed as head of the newest branch of the armed forces, Space Force. While the actual directive of this branch is vague at best, Naird declares frequently that he aims to put “boots on the moon,” which he intends to do no matter what, despite reservations from pretty much everyone. His biggest opposition comes from perhaps his closest ally, head scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), who tries, along with every scientist and advisor on-base, to convince the general to delay the impending launch of their orbital satellite, the Epsilon 6.
Inspired by the ridiculous, real-life initiative, Space Force tries a little too hard at poking fun at its own concept. Show-runners Carell and Greg Daniels found great success with The Office, a show that took some time to find its footing but always had enormous potential, something this series is sadly lacking. The funniest moments are just throwaway lines delivered by genuinely funny people; an early scene features the likes of Jane Lynch, Patrick Warburton, and Diedrich Bader, none of whom have to work very hard to get a laugh. While the best jokes come at the expense of the US military, nothing is off-limits — everything from Twitter to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez get lampooned in some way at some point. With such a wide range of jokes, some struggle to take off while others simply crash and burn.
While the writing is all over the place, the show’s greatest asset is its cast. Carell plays against type as the gruff General Naird, whose stubbornness and determination constantly puts him at odds with his staff but occasionally displays a softer side that is genuinely endearing. He and Malkovich, who delightfully chews the scenery as only he can, have a strong, awkward dynamic that propels the material whenever they’re both on-screen. The rest of the cast is great but end up getting sidelined in favor of the big name guest stars, including Lisa Kudrow as Naird’s wife and the late, great Fred Willard as Naird’s not-all-there father. Given his very recent (and all too-soon) departure, Willard’s appearance is bittersweet.
By the time this goes up, you may have already binged the whole season. However, for those who haven’t, I can only say at this point that Space Force has an upward battle if it hopes to be worthy of the level of talent at its disposal. With real-life feeling more and more like a farce, satire like this needs to really step up its game.