Space Force Review: Does Steve Carell and team live up to the hype?
The United States Space Force (USSF) is the sixth branch of the US Armed Force. It was established as an independent branch in December 2019. There has been talk about having a space-specific branch to serve the United States interest in space since 2000. With largely bi-partisan support for the same, it wasn’t until Donald Trump, the current President of the United States (POTUS) decided to fast-track the process of creating this space force.
In January 2019, President Donald Trump directed the Pentagon to create the Space Force. A funny concept then because of how ludicrous the idea seemed.”Preparing for something that isn’t going to happen without adequate technological advancements”.
And… some thought of making it into a full fledged show. As a result, Netflix ordered a 10 episode season of a show based on ‘Space Force’.
Why so much Hype over Space Force?
With Greg Daniels and Steve Carell (of The Office fame) presiding over this new show, expectations were high amongst fans familiar with their work. Some expected a similar variant to one widely successful workplace comedy. These expectations rose even further with the likes of Lisa Kudrow and Ben Schwartz (Friends and Parks and Rec respectively). They signed up for this show as actors, with Steve being the lead commander of the new force in the series.
Some wondered if the slapstick comedy of The Office would be replicated in the context of Space Force. Others, saw this as a chance to include a lot of sharp political commentary. Especially with the fact that early trailers made it clear that Donald Trump or the present POTUS would be the president (in spirit at least) on the show as well. Either way, there was going to be an audience for this new Netflix series.
All episodes are available to stream as is the tradition with OTT platforms. So what is it really about? And does it really live up to the expectations set by its cast and premise?
Space Force(d) Humour?
Like I said, there is quite the expectation for comedic situations considering the absurdity of the Space Force as a fleshed out concept. Yet the actual show takes things in a different direction.The first episode opens with General Mark Naird (Steve Carell) having just received his fourth star as a general. In a meeting with the other generals, they are informed of the creation of a Space Force to ‘establish US interests in space’ . Naird scoffs at this! Only to be appointed head of the same. This scene is a call-back to Carrel’s forte, providing laughter through his mannerisms.
The rest of the episode focuses on setting up the character arcs of the cast. Naird has to move his family from Washington to Colorado where the base is set up.
The show cuts to a year later. Naird’s wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) is in prison (for reasons unspecified), and daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) is struggling with her new life. Naird also has to deal with his fellow office workers. A seemingly incompetent PA Brad (Don Gregory), a scientific advisor he clashes with (Dr. Adrian Mallory played by John Malkovich), and the modern day media officer F. Tony (there’s a name-play gag used often here – played by Ben Schwartz).
Off to a rocky start but gets better as it goes on..
The first episode drag after the initial scenes. There is so much to explain about the premise of the show. After all, Space Force is very different from something The Office, and the latter cannot be used as a model for this show. This is because people cannot really relate to what is going on in a military branch as opposed to a paper company. So, the kind of humor employed in The Office would never work in the context of this show. Yes, they do try and include that kind of humour which makes the humor part clear. But they rely on more subtle jokes which might not be that easy to pick out for the average viewer.
They employ a sort of absurdist take on how the actual Space Force might work – complemented with satirical takes on contemporary characters and issues. For instance, how New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is shown (as a parody) in one of the early episodes at a Congressional hearing. The POTUS and her wife are referenced in a few episodes for humorous effect. As is Russia, China, and India at different points in the series.
As much as I wanted this show to work, I would still have to say not every joke landed properly. It might be harsh to say that it cannot be called a comedy as some have. Yet, I did not laugh out loud too many times, especially in the first few episodes. There are other jokes I didn’t either get or just acknowledged some of the jokes. You know, when you get the joke but you don’t go laughing all the way. The comedy aspect needs to be worked on…
Telling the story right
Space Force team does exceedingly well in terms of character development. In terms of setting up conflicts for the main character as well as the other characters. They do a good job at portraying many of the contemporary topics like the need to mask insecurity, skepticism of scientific advice, and how couples can compromise in certain situations. There are a few romantic plotlines that are drawn towards the end of the first season. These present a nice change of pace without distracting from the main storyline.
With this mind, there are quite a few moments where the show takes a serious turn out of the blue to ensure the said character development is done. This leads to viewers being confused with comedy and seriousness. The writers should really work on that. Another issue is the portrayal of the daughter of General Mark Naird. She doesn’t undergo much character development and seems to be used as a plot device to convey an aspect of Naird’s struggles.
Many also feel that the ending is a bit rushed, with the final episode sort of ending on a cliffhanger. With this show unlikely to end at this point, the first season feels like a slog. However, it could age better if the second season actually improves upon the first by advancing plot points. This sows the seeds for better storytelling and fun scenes in the future.
To watch or not to watch?
All in all, if you have some time to binge five hours of content and love to see absurdist humor, do check this out. If you are coming from the future where the subsequent seasons caused this show to take off in a big way, this season will feel important to understand the origins of this show.