“Space Force”: Satire struggles to lift off


‘Space Force (Netflix series); Cast: Steve Carell, John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome, Lisa Kudrow; Created by: Steve Carell and Greg Daniels; Rating: * * and 1/2 (two stars and half stars)

By Vinayak Chakravorty

“Space Force” stretches itself to 10 episodes, which is an awful lot of runtime for a story that just wants to put some American “boots on the moon”. All in good humour, of course — when funnyman Steve Carell dons the four-star uniform of the US Space Force’s first Chief of Space Operations, landing a few good souls on the moon can be expected to come with the standard bag of gags.

Except that you miss the standard gag bag this time.

For those who would go in expecting the moon (quite literally) because the show marks a new collaboration between Carell and co-creator Greg Daniels after “The Office”, “Space Force” would seem like an anti-climax. The story starts running low on humour and brainwaves after a while, and you seriously wish it all ended within half the number of episodes allotted.

In a nutshell, the US Space Force has been established as the sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces, with Carell’s protagonist, General Mark R. Naird, as its head. The mission is to get Americans on the moon as per orders of the President of the United States.

“Space Force” tries being a satire and a workplace comedy, like “The Office”. The idea is to create a set of oddball characters and quirky situations that leave scope for political jibes at Trumpism. There is also a third intention, beyond serving up random office space laughs and White House lampooning. Without getting too melodramatic about it, the writing also tries giving a deeper context to the storyline by occasionally dwelling upon the inner demons of General Naird.

The trouble is the show struggles at all three levels. As a workplace comedy, “Space Force” lacks the sheer engaging quality of “The Office”, or Daniels’ earlier brilliant creation, “Parks And Recreations”. Random jokes are thrown in, a few hilarious and mostly pedestrian. But what leaves you more disappointed is the way Daniels and Carell fumble while trying to leave a witty political comment.

If the effort was to show how a high-ranking official is at the mercy of POTUS whims, it comes across in a rather sketchy manner.

Parallel to these is Naird’s personal track. In a bid to add a dash of black humour, perhaps, his family life revels in tragi-comic tones. His wife (Lisa Kudrow) is in jail, his daughter (Diana Silvers) is dating the Russian Air Force liaison (Alex Sparrow) at the base who, Naird is convinced, is a spy. His parents are not in the soundest state of mind. It doesn’t make Naird’s life easier that right from the start, when he is confidently keen about launching a rocket, most top shots at the space station, including chief scientist Dr Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), are dead against his plans.

The show is redeemed by its cast. Steve Carell is impressively understated as he lives out Naird’s high-tension job profile on screen, without losing touch with his intrinsic comic image. Some of Carell’s best scenes are with Malkovich, ever the assured performer. The makers have handpicked a credible cast that lives up to its billing. Watching minor characters mouth spoofy “Star Wars” lines throws up the occasional laughs, too.

Going by the Netflix tradition of bringing back their most mediocre shows for a new season, “Space Force” will most likely return. For the sake of humour, here’s hoping Greg Daniels hits vintage form then.