The potential is there, but Space Force never reaches blast off.
Greg Daniels and Steve Carell teaming up for another comedy series – this time for Netflix – should be a portent of great things. Their previous pairing on the US version of The Office quickly broke from the shackles of the UK series and forged its own path to become one of the all-time great comedies. And here with the whole of the ludicrous Trump administration to riff on, surely these two would be able to create something that is both riotously funny and sharply satirical at the same time. The jokes surely write themselves?
Well clearly not – across the whole ten episodes I laughed precisely once; and that was at the one scene of utterly glorious slapstick, that saw a chimpanzee spinning at high velocity on the other end of a drill. That was it – the great comedy minds of Carell and Daniels and a cast that also has Lisa Kudrow and John Malkovich failed to land one joke, leaving me to be entertained by a spinning primate.
The whole idea of Space Force sounds insane, and yet it’s a real thing. How can you have the idea of the US trying to become the dominant force in space against the backdrop of Donald Trump’s Twitter outbursts and not come up with something funny? Lisa Kudrow is totally wasted in a role that sees her spend 90% of the series in prison. John Malkovich is as brilliant as you’d expect – but he can’t elevate a show that is so devoid of humour.
Carell himself as General Naird is a solid enough character, but again he just doesn’t have anything funny to actually work with. The show seems to have been riding on the coattails of Silicon Valley in it’s last minute rug pulling efforts that fall totally flat. While Mike Judge’s series might have pushed the boundaries of believability at times, in it’s ramping up of the precipitous downfalls that Richard Hendricks suffered, it was always grounded in reality; whereas Carell and Daniels just can’t seem to make it stick. The cliffhanger at the end of the first episode is the perfect example – it’s a delicate balance but the payoff just isn’t there.
Trump, while never named, is as much of a character in the series as almost anyone else – yet everything he does is bizarrely less unbelievable than real life. He’s a man of monumental strops and yet there’s nothing here that comes close to his real life Twitter tirades.
The cast are all likeable, but largely forgettable. Diana Silvers’ plays Naird’s daughter; her relationship with possible spy Captain Yuri (Alexy Vorobyov) is never tapped in terms of potential. Fred Willard, who sadly passed away after filming his segments, is fantastic despite it being more than a little clear that he was struggling and Tawny Newsome’s Angela Ali deserved so much better than to be a character so sidelined throughout most of the series. The only bum note is Ben Schwartz – he might have been an intensely irritating marmite character in Parks & Recreation but there it worked, here it doesn’t.
The final episodes attempt to up the ante as Naird races to catch up with China – with a cobbled together team of untrained astronauts. It probably hits the mark a little more than the previous episodes of the season, but fails to land one truly funny moment with a final cliff-hanger, that isn’t just signposted, it feels like it’s been lit up with neon lights. The only real thing it achieves with any success is finally giving Tawny Newsom something to actually work with on her own.
I really wanted to enjoy Space Force; the potential was huge and I’ve grown to like The Office over the years. Instead, luke warm, relatively inoffensive comedy just doesn’t work and the only thing that Netflix seems to have brought to the table is the option to add in a few more swear words.