Four-star General Mark R. Naird is having a bad day. The launch of his military satellite – the first of its kind – is not going to plan. His doddery parents interrupt his lunch with a group of government officials. His wife is… indisposed. And his teenage daughter is intent on dating a Russian spy.
Greg Daniels and Steve Carell, the team that brought the US Office to life behind and in front of the camera respectively, reunite for this workplace comedy set in, of all places, a military base whose aim is to get “boots on the moon by 2024”. The bluster and euphemism of public services under Trump – who is never directly named in the show – are a well-chosen target for Daniels’s wacky satire. With King of the Hill and Parks and Recreation as well as The Office under his belt, Daniels has made a name for himself as the US’s top purveyor of oddball characters, eye-watering one-liners, and iconic set pieces. Space Force is a winsome adaptation of the expected Daniels tropes; he would do well to make sure they do not harden into a formula.
A Netflix venture, Space Force is not bound by the constraints of Daniels’s network shows. Episodes are 25 to 40 minutes long, rather than the 22 of American TV comedy; characters utter the F-word with the nonchalant jubilation of teenagers left alone at home for the first time. A rather baggy roster of actors comports itself well. Diana Silvers and John Malkovich provide game support as Naird’s daughter and civilian science adviser. Over the whole concoction hangs an absurdity that is, unfortunately, wholly believable in the America of 2020. Trump really did establish a separate Space Force, in December 2019; from there it’s not a great leap to imagine chimps being enlisted for essential engineering work 4000 miles up.
Carell’s central performance holds the show together. Evidently treading carefully lest his portrayal of a US general stray too far into the idiocy of his best-known character Michael Scott (offending military America into the bargain), there is yet a touch of the same lovable obstinacy about him here. Carell is at his best when laying bare the difficult switch between home and work pressures. When that work is costing the government billions of dollars (referred to in terms of the number of schools they could have funded), the need to show confidence and decision is dramatically increased.
So far, though, the stakes haven’t felt very high. It’s strange that something as small as a promotion or firing decision at Dunder Mifflin could feel more tense than the explosive consequences of a foot wrong in the Space Force. But perhaps that’s just why it feels harder to latch on to. Daniels is too good a writer to fall into clichés or tired generalisations (although Ben Schwartz’s millennial social media manager treads close to the edge). It is well known that both The Office and Parks and Recreation took a couple of seasons to get into their stride. Space Force is a more or less engaging concept and it’s well executed. It just needs a few more laughs.
Space Force is released digitally on demand on 29th May 2020.
Watch the trailer for Space Force here: