Review by Sean Boelman
Coming from the minds of Greg Daniels and Steve Carell (The Office), Netflix’s newest original series Space Force is inarguably one of the most ambitious situational comedies in the history of the genre, but it doesn’t always pay off. At its best when it leans into the comedic talents of its cast and writers, the series ultimately goes too big in many instances and can fall flat as a result.
The series follows the four-star general in charge of the new branch of the United States Armed Forces as he and his spacemen face the struggles of trying to exert dominance over the final frontier. For the most part, it’s a political farce making fun of the mundanities of even something as unprecedented as this.
Carell is just playing an angrier and more straight-faced version of his Michael Scott character here: a well-meaning but socially inept boss who has the knowledge for the job but doesn’t know how to express it. Although this may be a positive for those who are hardcore devotees to The Office, it keeps the series from shining as brightly as it could.
Ultimately, the real star of Space Force is not Carell, but John Malkovich. Playing the protagonist’s lead scientific civilian advisor, Malkovich has many of the funniest moments in the series, offering witty quips from an outsider’s perspective. His chemistry with Carell is also a significant driving force for the narrative.
That said, not all of the subplots work well. One of the best things about The Office is that everyone has their favorite character, and these favorites span the entire cast. Here, the favorites will almost entirely be between those two leads. Some of the other characters, like another prominent scientist (Jimmy O. Yang) and the astronauts’ captain (Tawny Newsome) are compelling but need to be explored more in future seasons; others, such as the protagonist’s wife (Lisa Kudrow) are non-starters.
It does become frustrating when the series attempts to take direct stabs at real-world politics. Daniels and Carell do a good enough job of showing the buffoonery within their characters, so when they insert members of Congress that are meant to represent real-life politicians and a social media manager that is clearly meant to make fun of the President’s tweets, it draws the viewer out of the series’ alternate world.
Regardless, there was a lot of money invested into making this world as immersive as possible, and with the exception of those moments that are based a bit too heavily in reality, it works well. The production values here are significantly stronger than most comedy series. This allows the more action-oriented sequences to function even though they often detract from the humor.
Space Force certainly isn’t going to be the next The Office — it simply isn’t silly or funny enough — but in its own right, it’s a solid watch. It will be interesting to see where Daniels and Carell take this in the future as the real Space Force begins to manifest itself and becomes less open to speculation.
Space Force streams on Netflix beginning May 29. (All ten episodes reviewed.)
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