Published on June 7th, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Space Force, the new flashy Netflix comedy, simply bites off more than it can chew. The potential is there, but the comedy just feels forced.
I think the one of the worst qualities a comedy film or series can have is a feeling of desperation. When one can sense how hard it is trying to be funny, it kind of cripples its ability to actually be funny. Space Force, the exorbitantly expensive and star-stacked new series from Netflix, has this problem. It’s good enough; it did make me laugh on occasion. But it didn’t sweep me into its world because, ultimately, it buckles under its own, inescapably high expectations.
The series, about a hapless army general (Steve Carell) who is tasked with putting “Boots on the Moon” by 2024, was created by some pretty noteworthy and reputable sources. Steve Carell and Greg Daniels are the brains behind the operation, yet Space Force, while essentially a workplace comedy, is a far cry from the cunning simplicity of The Office. It over complicates itself through its concept alone. Playing within the realm of familiar sitcom rhythms and dynamics, it stuffs an entire division of the U.S. Army into that box. The result is something far too expansive to really give its tertiary characters enough to do.
Everyone is giving it their best shot, though. You can tell that the writers and cast involved really think it’s a home run, or at the very least are trying desperately to elevate the material to that status. Steve Carell play a real capital-C Character, perhaps doing too much as he grunts his way through his characters’ series of impossible situations. General Naird is a stubborn, old-guard military vet who is way in over his head yet refuses to let his ego take a hit. It’s the kind of role that you’d think Carell has aged into nicely at this stage of his career. Yet, I couldn’t help but sense the show’s obligation to bury the actor’s persona under layers of rigid characterization that kind of mute the core likeability that Carell usually has. To a degree, every celebrity is playing a version of themself. Space Force, in being co-created by Carell, seems hell-bent on breaking that “type,” yet strikes an overall tone that very much requires shades of the Carell we know and love. Shades that are just too infrequent to properly balance out.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by a legion of talented actors who don’t get enough to do. Except for John Malkovich who, while not unfunny in this, isn’t exactly known for his comedic timing. Ben Schwartz, Tawny Newsome, and Jimmy O. Chang all feature but just don’t get enough to work with. Thankfully, the late Fred Willard pops up as Naird’s senile father and provides a few solid laughs (though it’s pretty low-hanging fruit).
It’s a show that clearly wants to be a rich ensemble and create the kind of dimensional, satirical world for which comedy series develop hardcore followings. But the writing is just stretched too thin between the show’s high concept and its need to be a big, old school ensemble comedy. Many jokes just seemed forced or obligatory so that the show can get everything it wants. Even the ones that work fail to really add any real momentum to each episode.
It just expects too much of itself. And it really wreaks of the kind of show that the network (or in this case, streaming platform) assumed would be a smash before it was actually made. Netflix clearly spent a fuck ton of money doubling down on what they assumed would be a massive hit. Who knows; maybe it still will be. But I found it hard to escape its stench of desperation. The production design, which is clearly meant to be a part of the show’s appeal, is expensive-looking more than it is really engaging and interesting. The show wears its big budget on its sleeve in a way that makes it seem tawdry and one-dimensional.
And it’s a shame because it could’ve worked. I suppose it kind of does, in a way. You don’t get that many talented people in a room together and not come up with some funny ideas. But the show just kind of misfires conceptually. It goes through the motions of the show it really wants to be and is expected to be. But, in the end, it’s just a mixed bag of loose parts. That kind of thing works for something like Reno 911, where its messiness is its charm. A show like Space Force needs to be airtight in order to really work. Instead, it’s riddled with leaks that cause it to quickly deflate.