Netflix’s highly anticipated series Space Force tries to be a lot of different things. Unfortunately, it spreads itself too thin. It’s easy to see what the program is trying to do, but when all set and done, Space Force doesn’t do much of anything. Heralded by The Office and Parks and Recreation co-creator Greg Daniels and leading comedian Steve Carrell, inspiration and intent are evident. Still, the star-studded cast and style appear plucked from past projects and thrown together haphazardly. The new series lacks cohesion, not too unlike the administration this series serves to mock.
Space Force follows recently promoted General Mark Naird. As Naird receives his promotion, his hopes are high to repace his workplace adversary, the General of the Air Force. Instead, to both of their dismay, Naird is put in charge of the United States Space Force. The organization moves to its own branch instead of remaining under the purview of the Air Force. It’s definitely not what Naird worked his entire career to achieve.
Naird seems like the type to dislike the administration, implied heavily to be Trumpian in nature. The President remains an off-screen character, however, only referred to by his title. At the same time, Naird behaves dramatically; a behavior expected more of someone who believes in that version of America. The contrast doesn’t quite work for the character. Naird feels disdain for the President, all the while going to extreme lengths to satisfy him. However, this may not be too uncommon with the current state of American politics. The lengths he goes to complete the Space Force mission and hit their goals in a timely fashion is consistent. However, the characterization is still a tough one to swallow. Whether it’s because we’re not used to Carrell playing a character with this mindset, or whether it’s too fresh of an observed situation among politicians is arguable.
The timing of the release doesn’t serve the show well. Space Force attempts to provide commentary and a satirical look at the state of American politics, but muddles the message. As the current state of American politics is messy, and perhaps frightening, the current administration is still in power. As recent societal altering events such as the Covid-19 crisis and the nationwide protests against systematic racism rage on, one has to wonder if Space Force was perhaps released too early. This isn’t the show’s fault. It was created and promoted well before these events began to shape the current American climate. Still, I couldn’t help but feel slightly uncomfortable watching this show satirically comment on contemporary politics in a silly manner, all the while the complicit actions of the American government continue to escalate dangerous conditions for average Americans.
The creators of Space Force took a risk in its early release, which isn’t always a sound idea. Sometimes, there needs to be a more extended passage of time between current events and the fictionalization of these events. Delaying the production of this show could have served the concept better and even opened up more opportunities for satire without exposing a fresh wound for many.
Poking fun at American politics isn’t the only goal the show tries to achieve. Space Force also attempts to incorporate a family-drama aspect. Relocating the Naird family from Washington to Colorado has a multitude of effects on the family. These range from the expected struggle for Naird’s daughter of trying to fit in, to lesser expected consequences, such as Naird’s wife, Maggie, landing in prison for decades for a crime that hasn’t yet revealed itself.
While a stark contrast from the political aspects of the show, Erin adds layers to Mark that is essential for him to be more than a one-dimensional character. Watching him attempt to balance being a single father (in a way) and his obligations to Space Force deepens Naird’s conflicts. While Carrell’s roles in other projects such as The Office endears viewers occasionally with his care for his employees, Naird is colder to his subordinates in Space Force. His relationship with his daughter brings out the better parts of him. And it’s his family relationships that form the basis for his emotional struggle with being open and allowing himself to acknowledge his stress and emotion in the fourth episode, LUNAR HABITAT.
Sidenote: When viewing the show on Netflix, the episode titles are stylized as short statements in all capital letters, an obvious play on the nature of Trump’s tweets, which was a detail I appreciated.
When it comes down to it, Space Force’s problems boil down to its lack of identity. It doesn’t know what type of show it wants to be. The comedy is inconsistent – sometimes it’s outlandish, sometimes it’s deadpan, occasionally intellectual, and occasionally crude, but most of the time, the jokes don’t land.
But sometimes, they do.
My favorite episode of the season is the second one, SAVE EPSILON 6!, which focuses on The Space Force team attempting to save their satellite launch with animals sent (and abandoned) in space after Chinese forces sabotaged their launch. The comedy in this is outlandish and ridiculous. However, the special effects and animal gags make it the most enjoyable episode of the first season.
Another noteworthy moment is when Captain Angela butchers her first words upon landing on the moon, which was a critical moment as she is the first Black woman to step on the celestial body. Attempting to say, “It’s good to be back on the moon,” she suffers a Freudian slip, replacing the word ‘back’ with ‘Black.’ Being one of the few moments that elicited a physical response from me, the build-up to this slip was well-executed.
Angela also ends up being one of the more endearing characters in Space Force, even though the show wasn’t sure what to do with her. They pair Angela up with Erin for a good portion of the beginning of the season, then send her to space in the back-half of the season. Presumably, this will be to anchor the Moon-based arc if the show obtains renewal. However, this leaves Erin in a much more isolated state if the show is to return for subsequent seasons.
Most of the time, however, the jokes don’t hit. When watching, I was aware of what was supposed to be funny, but my brain didn’t register the jokes as humourous. Without the strong cast, Space Force would have fallen entirely flat. The strength of the cast isn’t just limited to the most prolific actors. Well-known, John Malkovich’s presence as the less-nonsense scientist serves as the sane-man insert. He provides an anchoring perspective that makes the insanity of Space Force’s circumstances easier to digest. Jimmy Yang as Dr. Kaifang unexpectedly provided my favorite comedic presence. Known for Silicon Valley, I wasn’t familiar with this actor going into Space Force. However, his deadpan delivery lands as the best humor of the cast.
Steve Carrell has a commanding presence that is hard to balance. Space Force did its best to balance him out, but many times did not succeed. With too many variances of comedic style, the lack of cohesion left me wondering: what is the point of the humor?
And, with this issue of erratic choices in the development of the show, I found it hard to see the heart of Space Force, save a few endearing moments between Naird and his daughter, and Naird and Dr. Mallory, which arguably is necessary for a comedy like this to resonate with viewers. Other similar shows have a certain charm or heartwarming quality, but as mentioned before, Space Force’s is few and far between.
Picking aspects and dynamics that have worked in other recent acclaimed comedies isn’t always a recipe for success. The inspiration is clear, but for a show like Space Force to succeed, there needs to be a more evident intention. Things happen, not for progression or commentary, but for the sake of happening. Having Ben Schwartz as the social media manager of the military branch is a great idea. However, somehow, they underutilized Schwartz, which is a crime considering how beloved his roles are on other shows.
Space Force’s humor isn’t the only aspect lacking identity. The overall genre seems inconsistent, as well. Sometimes a dramedy, sometimes a workplace comedy, sometimes a family drama, these different storytelling elements don’t always mesh together. The show even takes a stab at space tropes, launching humans to the moon. However, adding in this new aspect doesn’t elevate Space Force in any way. Instead, it just adds another cluttered element to the recipe for season one. Space Force feels empty even though so much goes on.
But don’t give up hope yet. Despite the issues outlined, with outstanding effects and a talented cast, maybe Space Force just hasn’t found its footing yet. Space Force is doing well with viewership, so expect another season to come. Many similar comedies take time to find their rhythm. The Office and Parks and Recreation both took time to grow into their own, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Space Force could vastly improve on its style, writing, and execution upon subsequent seasons. However, the binge format could hinder this, leaving the sour taste in viewers’ mouths for a year or more. And who knows what actual events could have transpired by then to effect opinion and viewership?
All in all, Space Force has strong elements, a talented cast, and a solid foundation for future improvement. Still, it struggles to decide on a direction to lead the narrative. Left as a chaotic combination of things that should work, Space Force doesn’t quite work. Despite this, I wouldn’t recommend against watching Space Force. You will get some laughs. And it’s not a massive undertaking with only ten episodes averaging around half an hour long. After all, television seems to be on hold for a while, thanks to workplace restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. So, there’s not much to lose, but not a whole lot to gain either. I do think Space Force has the potential to grow into something much better, but currently, it doesn’t live up to Greg Daniels’s legacy.
All episodes of Space Force are now streaming on Netflix.
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