NOTE: Here is my review from Soda & Telepaths that was posted back on June 16, 2020
“My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air and sea. We may even have a Space Force.”Donald Trump, March 13th, 2018
With that single sentence, the current (NOTE: NOW FORMER, DISGRACED, TWICE IMPEACHED, FAILED, STUPID) president of the United States planted the seed of an idea that would eventually grow into an actual real-world entity that we would call “Space Force”. Now, I’m sure Donny thought that the only thing that would come to pass would be his desire to wage battles in space because that’s apparently a thing we needed but nope, the people behind the American version of The Office and the recent Amazon Prime show Upload heard that phrase and said “There’s a show in that” and thus we now live in a world with two things named Space Force.
Space Force as a series is very much just a standard workplace sitcom, except here the workplace is a government facility that’s trying to thrive with no one seeming to fully understand its purpose. Every episode features a gaggle of workers trying to deal with an incompetent but overly confident boss General Mark Naird, played by Steve Carrell, who is himself trying to deal with the difficult blend of work and family. All this is meant to be heightened because everything involves space but the problems faced are all very familiar. Office romances, fights between departments, budget issues, petty squabbles between those in charge, it all feels very familiar by this point.
Because Space Force is a Netflix series, the budget is clearly big enough to afford some genuinely great actors who excel with this material. John Malkovich as the genius scientist Adrian Mallory is one of the highlights of the series with pitch-perfect delivery that honestly makes the entire series worth watching.
Space Force is also blessed with a great supporting cast, all of whom bring their A-game. Lisa Kudrow only turns up for a few episodes as General Naird’s wife who is serving a 40-year prison sentence and every time she appears it feels like a breath of fresh air. Cameos by gifted comedic actors like Jane Lynch, Patrick Warburton, Diedrich Bader and the late great Fred Willard all show just how much potential this series has to be something truly great and yet, it never gets there.
It never really gets to greatness because everything is so edgeless and safe. It’s a workplace comedy that gestures in the general direction of politics but never actually dares to point a finger at anything. Let me make one thing clear, a TV sitcom does not need to address politics in order to be great… but, if the entire foundation of your show is a real political event that we are still dealing with right now then you probably need to actually say something about politics in general.
As it stands, the best Space Force can come up with are some half-assed Nancy Pelosi and AOC parody characters and an episode subplot where FLOTUS wants to redesign the space force outfits. A show wanting to have an edge and maybe take on some real-world political issues (issues it’s almost daring us to expect considering its title references real-world politics) might make those outfits reference the infamous coat that FLOTUS wore with “I really don’t care, do you?” written on the back.
Instead, the FLOTUS in the Space Force universe designs outfits that might’ve looked good on the cape themed runway in the last season of RuPaul’s Drag Race… and that’s the extent of that political joke. FLOTUS doesn’t understand how to design an outfit appropriate to the occasion, that counts as pointed satire right?
Space Force seems a lot more invested in the interactions between colleagues, mostly leaning on Naird and Mallory trying to work together while being at odds because Naird is all about reacting with his gut and Mallory reacts with his head. This more often than not leads to Naird trying to brute force his way out of a scenario and Mallory looking on disapprovingly.
One example of this happens in episode 2 where Naird is convinced that a chimpanzee on one of their ships would be capable of doing a major repair. To try and help, Mallory offhandedly suggests he has a potential idea and never pushes beyond that until Naird’s plan flops and they finally acknowledge Mallory, whose plan is now useless because the monkey has screwed everything up.
I can’t deny that there is good here, there are a fair few little moments and interactions that show some great comedic potential that’s being restrained. They aren’t just pulling their punches, they aren’t even swinging. Either the show needed to be retooled to remove any references to real-world politics, or they needed to lean into them and actually say something because as it is, we’re left with this kinda average series that has no identity.
I can’t say Space Force is bad, I also can’t say it’s an absolute must-watch or will be remembered. If you want to see more Steve Carrell reading lines by a writer of The Office while John Malkovich looks on disapprovingly at him then sure, but don’t expect it to be anything more than just OK.