When I first heard that Greg Daniels, the creator of the U.S. version of The Office, would be re-teaming with Steve Carell to make a series on Netflix based upon President Donald Trump’s proposition for a new branch of the military called the Space Force, I was really excited. The Office is my all-time favorite comedy show, and I was excited to see Daniels and Carell work together again on something new. From the sounds of the premise, there seemed to be a lot of potential for a new hilarious workspace comedy mixed with some strong political commentary.
The first season of Space Force, comprised of 10 episodes, dropped on Netflix on May 29, which I watched in one sitting to prepare for this review. Space Force is not a bad show; it’s just rather dull. The characters are not very interesting, the story isn’t that compelling, and there aren’t many jokes that land. It is not an insufferable show, but it isn’t one I could recommend. I certainly wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing in one sitting.
The series follows Mark Naird (Carell), a four star general who has been appointed to run the newly created Space Force. He works closely with his top scientist, Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), to solve different problems and compete with other countries for control over outer space.
Space Force features a lot of familiar faces. Joining Carell and Malkovich are Ben Schwartz as Space Force’s publicist, Lisa Kudrow as Mark’s imprisoned wife, Dan Bakkedahl as the Secretary of Defense, Jane Lynch as the head of the Navy, and the late great Fred Willard as Mark’s father. I like a lot of the actors involved in the show, and it’s fun to see them all pop up throughout the season. However, their characters are all pretty one-note, and have little substance to them.
Steve Carell as General Naird is a little strange. I absolutely adore Steve Carell, as both a comedic and dramatic actor. He is simply brilliant, and I will be a fan of his until the day I die. The character of General Naird does not feel like the right fit for Carell. Part of the time he is the uber-serious military man who is all about orders and procedure, who Carell plays rather devoid of emotion. Randomly, and without any real explanation, different quirks seep into his character that feel like Michael Scott-isms. These moments feel like the show is playing into Carell more so than the character they’ve created.
Carell as a performer in the season is fine; I more blame the writing. They just don’t know what they want this character to be. Is he the tough general who had to eat worms on the battlefield to survive, or is he the goofy dad who sings and dances when no one is looking? These don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but they feel like they’re supposed to be, which makes it seem jarring and strange when the character floats between them from scene to scene.
This stems from the larger problem with the series: it doesn’t really know what it is. Sometimes it goes for political comedy, but it never feels like it’s actually making any sort of point. Sometimes it’s a procedural workplace comedy, but it doesn’t invest you in the characters enough for this to have any weight. It feels to me like Daniels and Carell, the series’ creators, had a really good idea for a show that Netflix bought, but they weren’t able to develop much more outside of that original idea.
This isn’t a terrible show. Clearly a lot of resources went into building the sets for the Space Force offices, which I really like. The show definitely has some really strong elements, especially great production and costume design. However, these parts don’t do much to overcome the fact that Space Force is boring. There isn’t enough going on to garner your investment.
The structure of the season is strange, because what seems to be the story of the season isn’t even really introduced until its second half. The first half contains mostly self-isolated episodes, which feel kind of pointless once you’re past them. The season needed a much stronger story thread that carried all the way through the ten episodes in order to hook the audience and keep them engaged the entire time.
If you’re not going to have a compelling story, then at least have interesting characters — something Space Force doesn’t really have. If you’re not going to have interesting characters, then at least have funny jokes — also something Space Force doesn’t really have. What it ultimately boils down to is that this a show that I feel rather indifferent towards. I don’t hate it; it just feels like a waste of time. Every episode seems like it is treading water because there’s nothing it is really building towards.
In terms of diversity, a lot of the supporting cast are actors of color. However, they are just as ill-defined as the principle characters. The seeds of a relationship begin to form between Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang) and Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome), but this feels rather rushed within the show. It feels more like the writers wanted to get these characters together than the characters naturally being drawn to each other.
Space Force highlights the differences between Naird and Mallory’s philosophies, contrasting solving problems through a militaristic method and through a scientific approach. At first, I thought this was a fascinating concept for the show to explore, and I thought it could be a really powerful theme. While the idea itself is compelling, the series never elevates it beyond a surface-level concept; there is so much more that could have been done with this idea. Similar to everything else with this show, they only had the idea and developed little outside of it.
Overall, Space Force is rather lackluster. All the pieces are in place for something really special: a great creator, a strong cast, and a goldmine of a concept. However, the scripts are ultimately pretty weak, and don’t do much to flesh this series out beyond its initial premise. It all comes down to the execution, and Space Force is executed poorly.
This isn’t a show that’s going to make you want to gouge out your eyeballs while you’re watching it. Rather, by the time the ten episodes are over, you’ll feel like you just watched five hours of nothing. Space Force is essentially a big bag of potato chips filled mostly with air.
Author: Nathanael Molnár, originally published [5/30/2020]