Today (May 29th) marks the release of the new Netflix Original Comedy from Greg Daniels (The Office, Parks and Recreation) and frequent collaborator with Steve Carell – the government-centred sci-fi sitcom Space Force. And although its first episode doesn’t reach the heights of their former work, it’s a promising start.
Without giving much away, Space Force stars Steve Carell as Mark Naird, a government worker tasked by the President (who is poked fun at, but remains unnamed) to lead the new Space Force program, aiming to get American soldiers on the moon by 2024. It feels reminiscent of Carell and Daniels’ previous workplace comedy, The Office: it definitely feels like Carell is playing a toned-down Michael Scott, as Naird is politically incorrect and goofy, yet is undeniably more mature than his previous character. It’s an interesting performance from Carell, who delivers the goofiness yet endearing professionalism of his character well, but the first episode’s script doesn’t flesh him out enough to make him anything more than a slightly dull protagonist. We meet his family and get some hints into his personality, but so far it’s not enough to make him as endearing as his previous roles. Michael Scott, even from The Office‘s pilot, was engaging, funny and likeable despite his flaws, but Space Force can’t achieve the same with Naird.
However, the supporting cast is a more promising concept. Space Force has a star-studded cast, from John Malkovich to Lisa Kudrow, and these characters seem to be more nuanced than the protagonist. Malkovich’s Mallory in particular has a good contrast to Naird, more dominating and sceptical than Naird’s blind faith and luck, and their interactions are among the episode’s most interesting. Daniels and Carell, who both penned this episode, also take Kudrow’s character – Naird’s wife Maggie – in an refreshing direction, and without spoiling anything, it’ll be interesting to see where they take the character in the remaining nine episodes. The show has the most heart when tackling the character of Angela (Tawny Newsome), a Space Force helicopter pilot who seems more down-to-earth than anyone else here, and Newsome creates a character who is not only endearing and bold, but is relatable too.
Space Force certainly doesn’t go for a traditional sitcom approach – at least not in the first episode. Unlike The Office and Parks and Recreation, the laughs are a lot less frequent, and whether that’s a purposeful move towards tackling more culturally important material – there’s some understated hints of political satire here – is yet to be seen. It’s surprising that the show tackles such a specific concept as the US Space Force – which late last year was established as its own branch of the US military, aside for the Air Force – yet doesn’t make all that much political commentary. It seems like the perfect opportunity to poke fun at a program that many could see as divisive – Reagan’s attempt to militarise space in the 1980s were ridiculed – yet doesn’t do so, which seems like a missed opportunity to satirise real-world developments.
The humour is definitely different to the quippy, physical comedy that made their previous collaboration work, and this seems far more plot-driven and serialised than what we’ve seen before. It’s a refreshing take on the comedy genre insofar as not many sitcoms of this ilk have tackled this topic, and if it can continue with the political commentary, and perhaps increase the laughs, it may become more successful.
Space Force‘s first episode is certainly worth watching, if nothing else just for the reunion between the stalwarts of The Office. Its premise is interesting enough and is well-established here, and the supporting cast are endearing and are arguably the show’s most promising feature, but the slight dullness of Naird is an issue – as is the lack of laughs in a triple-A comedy show. Whether it will grow into its skin as the show progresses will only be determined over time, but it’s a promising show nonetheless.