When watching “Space Force” something seems off. The new comedy series from Netflix, helmed by Greg Daniels (one of the showrunners of “The Office,” (U.S.) “King of the Hill,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place” among others) and Steve Carell is a dull affair – a response you wouldn’t expect given the talent.
General Mark Naird (Carell) is promoted to a four star general and is given command of a new division of the military by someone who is presumably President Trump. The series’ first season follows the rollout of the Space Force, which is predictably bumpy.
The humor in “Space Force” comes from the absurdity of the things this department is willing to spend their money on – rockets that amount to the cost of “four middle schools” regularly fail. There are name changes to avoid portraying various senators and congresspeople, including analogues for Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Might as well have nixed the aliases because it’s never in doubt who’s who. The actors playing them bear a clear resemblance and are doing apparent impressions.
The first problem is with Naird himself and how he’s written. While Steve Carell’s performance is quite good, he is not merely echoing Michael Scott, he makes a lot of clever acting choices to deliver a unique and funny performance. The issue comes with how the character is written; the series can’t seem to decide whether Naird is a bumbling idiot, a straight man or a self-involved bureaucrat.
What made Michael Scott work way back when was his consistent characterization. Even as season two of “The Office” rehabilitated him as a more likeable character, his childishness, dunning-kruger tendencies and social clumsiness remained consistent in some capacity throughout his tenure on the series. Most of the pleasures of General Naird come from Carell’s performance. A goal for season two should involve finding ironclad details as to who this guy is and how he works into the sitcom formula.
The other question that comes up is how they will make this into a long running series. President Trump’s idea for a Space Force was widely panned outside of his own circle and the odds of the program getting shut down under a Democratic presidency are substantial. It’s hard to see, at least with the first few episodes, the potential for future stories from the premise and characters that Daniels and Carell have introduced.
The positive here is that the cast is solid. Carell is complemented with supporting performances from the likes of Noah Emmerich (“The Americans”), Roy Wood Jr. (a correspondent on Trevor Noah’s “Daily Show), Patrick Warburton, Lisa Kudrow and others. It’s a stacked cast and the actors all seem game for the material.
“Space Force” is not awful, it is sporadically funny, but it is lost. It doesn’t know how it feels about its characters, it doesn’t seem at first like it can sustain even four to five seasons and it feels lost in its pacing. It seems like Netflix didn’t challenge Carell or Daniels on that much, they’re sitcom royalty at this point and it’s not hard to believe that they had free reign to do whatever they want. There’s a foundation of talented actors and a talented crew, but the series has yet to build on that.