Can Netflix bring out the best of our beloved funnyman Steve Carell?
Space Force has launched on Netflix and the reviews are flying in. Most of them, unfortunately, are overwhelmingly negative. While this might scare away many viewers who are inundated with a plethora of streaming options right now, there are some areas where the show has potential to shine.
Big fans of The Office will expectedly want to like this new comedy series. They’ll tune into Space Force hoping to enjoy some comedic magic that harkens back to Steve Carell’s days as regional manager Michael Scott. Judging by the pilot, however, they may have to keep watching more episodes to see it.
We begin the cosmic adventure by following our hero Mark Naird, who is quickly promoted to four-star general in the first few minutes of the story. Steve Carell is optimistic to a fault in this role, an endearing quality of many of his most successful on-screen characters. What’s missing is the marked uncertainty and reluctance that makes guys like Michael Scott and The 40-Year-Old Virgin so beloved. Naird is a company guy whose secret self-doubts and inner turmoil are mostly un-explored from the get go. It’s hard to root for someone who is all “can do” when we can’t relate to them.
Once promoted, General Naird moves swiftly to take command of his new assignment: launching a new military branch with a sole mission to put boots on the moon and achieve (cue screaming eagle here) SPACE DOMINANCE. Roll the credits and we’re riding with Naird into a top-secret NORAD facility found on a remote stretch of Colorado. The set pieces here seem legit and we get the sense that we’re on a real, authentic military base.
From here, the most interesting dynamic is definitely between General Naird and his (secret?) superior, Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich). Seeing the two of these mavericks together just begs for some laughs, yet there are few to be had. Malkovich saunters with the same commanding air that made villains like Cyrus The Virus in Con Air a loveable lunatic and Mitch Leary from In the Line of Fire a convincing adversary. Hopefully, subsequent episodes will lure out the real potential between these versatile actors.
As General Naird tries and fails to accomplish his first feat, launching a satellite into orbit, we are introduced to characters that may become friends or foes in the long run, such as the dubious Yuri ‘Bobby’ Telatovich (Alex Sparrow) and Captain Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome). Along the way, strong language is used in the form of an expletive here and there that apparently earned the show its TV-MA rating. However, the curse words don’t seem to add any comedic or character value. Why the cursing? To make the military setting more realistic? To focus the content on its targeted adult demographic? Without the language, the show would most likely be rated lighter while losing close to nothing.
When Naird visits his wife Maggie, who is now incarcerated in prison, we aren’t made privy to the underlying reason why she is behind bars. But we do know that she is going to be there “for a long time.” Again, like with Malkovich, we are waiting for some comedic gold between Carell and Kudrow, who have both proved their chops on television and film. They sneak in a quick sex joke, but the short conversation might leave you longing for a little more foreplay.
Nair eventually succeeds in launching a satellite and convincing his superiors that he’s the guy for the job. The nagging feeling many viewers might experience, though, is why do we care? It’s fun to root for a reluctanct hero or a character who has to get something done for a reason other than just getting it done. What is really driving General Mark Naird? Is there something more important on the line other than the country’s success and his own ego?
The main issues that challenge this pilot seem to revolve around missed opportunities. There are several moments where a bigger laugh was waiting to be stirred up, but the jokes are just left hanging. For instance, during a promising round-table near the beginning of the show, Commandant of the Coast Guard (Larry Joe Campbell) remarks, “Well, at least Coast Guard isn’t last in line anymore.” The Secretary of Defense John Blandsmith (Dan Bakkedahl) is quick to retort, “You’re behind Salvation Army, Louis.” There’s a short chuckle from all, then we quickly cut to the next scene. Can’t we enjoy the moment? Just a little elaboration or a moment to enjoy the funny would have gone a long way.
Another disappointment is when Naird’s assistant Brad Gregory (Dan Lake) notifies him that endangered lizards need to be collected before the launch. You’d expect it to be dragged out in true Office fashion until it borders on awkwardness. Lizards? What about Gila Monsters? Are those the same? Skinks. Are those lizards? You get it. Instead, the lizards are only mentioned a few times throughout the show and not really developed.
Perhaps the underlying problem with this first episode is that the talent on screen is not given enough opportunities to improvise. Admittedly, many of the most memorable scenes on shows like The Office and satire movies such as Anchorman come off feeling as though they were unscripted; clever quips and elaborations on loosely-designed jokes and awkward situations.
Despite the perceived shortcomings of the pilot episode, Space Force could muster up some good laughs down the stretch. It might have simply been a daunting task to set up the story, introduce the extravagant set pieces and harness the full capability of the show’s A-List talent all in one go. It will be interesting to see how it plays out as we follow the adventure to the season’s end.