An excellent concept and a grade-A cast can take a show a long way, but Steve Carell’s Space Force misses the mark entirely in utilizing either of these resources to produce a hilarious or thoughtful series. Based off of President Trump’s announcement to create a sixth branch of military, Space Force could retread old ground with a contemporary perspective.
This is to say, that in terms of television, Space Force is not boldly going where no man has gone before. Believing that Steve Carell could pull off this concept, my expectations were high even with the expectation of a leftist slant. But Space Force is an unmitigated mess with its cowardly stale satire, one dimensional characters, inconsistent acting performances, unexplained key details, and pretentious moral navigation.
General Plot Summary
General Naird (Carell) is tasked with being the top General at Space Force. So, his family moves from DC to Colorado. The show fast-forwards a year later, and we find that General Naird’s daughter is still in protest over the move and has pretty much become a stoner high school student who dates older men. We also find out that Naird’s wife is in a federal prison for reasons that they are never explained. the pilot episode begins with Naird and his chief scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich) arguing over whether to launch a satellite into space. The scientists all want to postpone the launch, but Naird, decides against advice and launches the rocket, proving that the scientists were too risk-adverse in the process.
From there, the show’s plot consists of the United State consistently getting outwitted by multiple nations, mainly China and India. China instantly attacks the new satellite and the Americans rush to repair the satellite. We also see General Naird navigate the DC Swamp with Congressional budget hearings where the show features obvious and unfunny parodies of Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What was funny is how the show’s plot involves President Trump leveraging conjugal visits over Naird as rewards or punishments for performance.
It takes roughly four or five episodes, but Mallory and Naird eventually show great chemistry, and Mallory consistently helps bail Naird out of his problems. Ultimately tensions between the USSF and Chinese space program escalate to the point where the US rushes to put “boots on the moon” even if it means rather untrained astronauts going into space. The season finale ends in the middle of a military skirmish of sorts on the moon where Naird and Mallory are trying to undermine US retaliation efforts.
One of the first problems with Space Force is Steve Carell himself. He tries to pull an accent to make him his character sound more rugged, despite being from New Jersey. Carell does not maintain this facade throughout an episode let alone some scenes. It’s not as bad as Adam Sandler’s fake accent in That’s My Boy, but it’s awkward to hear Carell try to sound tougher than he actually is and maintain it.
One of the best laughs comes when Naird is explaining to his subordinate the meticulous details involved with planning a conjugal visit or Naird exchanging barbs with the other branches of military. Carell is somehow one of the best and worst acting performances in the show.
General Naird is the only multi-dimensional character in Space Force, most likely because the show spends time fleshing out his character, so we understand him. We learn that as an Air Force pilot he was shot down in Bosnia behind enemy lines and suffers to some degree from PTSD as a result. We see the intense pressure Naird’s under and the isolation he’s in with the imprisonment of his wife and the rebellious angst of his daughter. and the only way he can relieve his stress is by singing. Despite all this, Naird is a believer in the people around him, while being petty and zany. Naird is ultimately deconstructed by the end of the season.
Certain characters also exist for the zany hijinks. Ben Schwartz plays the social media director for the entire Space Force. Schwartz is best known from Parks & Rec and less known from costarring in Coffee Town and well suited for the role, as it is almost the exact same character as he played before. But the character is only in B, C, or even D-plots until around seven episodes.
Dr. Adrian Mallory is Naird’s foil. But despite being portrayed by the eccentric John Malkovich, the character is still a one-dimensional construct. Mallory is an effeminate academic elitist and has all the political views that come with that. The show decided to expand upon Mallory’s character by making him gay, but homosexuality isn’t a dimension, unless it is portrayed as a character flaw or a staunch contradiction to what we already know about him. Overall, Space Force largely uses Mallory to convey the show’s messaging and such is why he is portrayed as a more ideal character than Naird. The one time we see Mallory break from this mold to when he encourages Naird to position the moon landing near the Chinese. The following episode he’s enraged by the DoD planning a military response to the escalating provocations with the Chinese, that he encouraged days prior. I’ll reserve further discussion on this for below.
Naird’s daughter Erin is a one-dimensional trope that has been done so many times before. She’s angry about the move and her mother’s subsequent imprisonment and has become a self-imposed outcast who finds connection in dating older men. The show starts her off with a Russian who we’re told is a spy before the show made it unfunnily obvious. And we end the season with her flirting with a spaceman.
Unanswered Key Details
Naird’s wife, Maggie is in a federal prison, doing 40 to 60 years. What the viewer never learns is why she went to prison. I suppose the showrunners think the imagining of what she did was better than showing or at least telling us what serious crime she committed. But this was poor writing to leave such a critical detail out. I kept thinking they would reveal it in a later episode, but it never came. It’s odd to leave this out especially as a comedy series, as her crime, trial, and prison experience could have been a long-lasting bit. Instead, it’s a widely acknowledged fact that no character goes into detail on. This was a missed opportunity for humor, although it would have significant altered the story. It also raises a question as to why Naird can remain in his position, seeing as it is a scandal. Either way, this marriage was doomed, and the viewer was left pondering how Naird would be rid of his wife and at what emotional cost. The only twist in this story arc comes at the end
The season finale sent a signal to Netflix not to renew this hot mess for another season. After convincing Naird to escalate tensions with the Chinese, Mallory then is in uproar that tensions escalated following the Chinese desecration of the Apollo 11 flag. The DoD wants to react, and Mallory is sent over the edge when it’s revealed that Space Force sent guns into space, as though this concept has never been thought of before, see Armageddon. Hollywood likely never thought through the fact that pulling the trigger while in a space suit may be an impracticable maneuver, but I digress. So Naird orders Captain Ali, the person who became an astronaut in three episodes because somehow Space Force is undermanned in this area, but I digress again, to sabotage the guns. Naird sabotaged a direct order, and so his rival general from the Air Force arrives to assume command because SecDef lost confidence in his leadership.
When the Air Force General orders the crew to sabotage the Chinese moon base anyway, the now ill-equipped Americans are left to sabotage the Chinese base with surplus wrenches. Naird is detained but escapes to rescue his daughter who found herself hanging out with methheads in the boonies. Naird can somehow find her and while flying her back, he somehow stumbles across his wife running in the dessert after somehow having escaped with her new prison guard lover. Naird likely flies off to the Grand Canyon. Meanwhile the spacemen on the moon find that the Chinese destroyed their base leaving both forces in a precarious position. That’s it. That’s how Space Force tries to navigate a serious plot.
After committing treason, by sabotaging the US moon base, Naird cannot foreseeably return to command without a heavy dose of plotholes or unsatisfying events. They’ve written themselves off a cliff. Naird commits treason and aids his wife’s prison escape. What was bothersome about this is that when Space Force tries to get serious, it goes over the top with a pretentious self-righteousness. The characters are portrayed as having done the right thing by disobeying an order that they believed was unlawful. But was engaging in a skirmish with the Chinese really unlawful? Are Chinese scientist really civilians, considering it was established how informed the Chinese military was with the scientific progress on the moon? Moreover, did the Chinese pose an active and credible threat to American lives on the moon, especially after having already committing at least one act of war already?
As a viewer, I wasn’t in the slightest moved by Mallory’s objections, as he was mostly horrified at the prospect of militarizing space, something that had already been done since satellites. Considering the ending, the mutual destruction of the moon bases quite literally shows that Naird’s sabotage of orders was not only unjustified but pure folly. For him to return would be like Dunder Mifflin taking back Michael Scott if he were to embezzle thousands from the company during a rough quarter.
It’s almost as though Steve Carell and Greg Daniels just wanted to make a statement with their show rather than get laughs or capitalize on a great concept. This becomes clear in the last two episodes where the attempts to be funny take a serious nosedive in their quality while the pretentious messaging of the writers becomes more forceful. Space Force is stupid until its necessary. Standing up to China when they are acting like bullies is good until it isn’t.
It’s difficult to make whether Netflix will renew for another season. On one hand the writers put in a lackluster effort; on the other, Netflix has a poor track record for original comedy series. Comedies are supposed to come out swinging their first season in order to get renewed. The second episode of The Office was “Diversity Day” and the first episode of Always Sunny was “The Gang Gets Racist” but Space Force was completely tame, not pushing any boundaries except my patience with bad writing.
This is a real shame and waste of talent, as Space Force is left in an awkward spot where it’s not funny enough to be a comedy and not serious enough to be a drama. The great concept of Space Force was unmatched by the writer’s ambition. When it’s not bad it’s simply mediocre.
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