Carell’s new Netflix series starts tonight
When The Office US's showrunner Greg Daniels teams up with his star Steve Carell on a new workplace comedy series, you expect it to be big, a side-splitting laugh-riot.
Space Force is not that.
It's fine, it's amiable, it's even enjoyable at times. There are some scorching jokes at the expense of an unnamed President who's definitely Donald Trump, and there's a really fun dynamic between Carell and John Malkovich once the show settles in after a few episodes.
What Space Force isn't is the frenetic, goofy and sharp comedy you desperately want it to be. Expectations is a dangerous game in TV.
Premiering on Netflix this week, Space Force is built around Carell's newly promoted four-star general Mark Naird, who thought he would be taking over the Air Force from the jerkish Kick Grabaston (Noah Emmerich).
Instead, he's tasked with heading up Space Force, an agency whose mission is to get "boots on the moon" by 2024, after a presidential tweetstorm - or, according to the show, it was "boobs on the moon", but they're pretty sure it was a typo.
Stationed out in the middle of the middle of nowhere in Colorado, the gravelly voiced Naird with his uptight shoulders (or maybe that's just the epaulets on his poly-cotton blend uniform) has to manage a team of scientists, chief among them Dr Mallory (Malkovich) and a green-ish team of recruits while trying to fend off pressure from POTUS and Congress.
There's the classic, initial stand-off between the military and the scientists which, happily, is a tired trope Space Force evolves past after the first few episodes, leaning more into the potential buddy relationship between the very different Naird and Mallory.
There's also the question of why Naird's wife (Lisa Kudrow) is now in a maximum-security prison just outside of town.
Ben Schwartz plays a buffoonish media director who's focused on a path to success that involves pleasing the unnamed POTUS, a character not dissimilar, in broad strokes, to his Parks and Recreation role of Jean-Ralphio.
There are definitely laugh-out-loud moments - Carell doing The Beach Boys' "Kokomo", a laser tag skirmish against the Air Force, the super alpha joint chiefs meeting - but there aren't enough of them to sustain the show across its 10-episode first season.
Space Force is at its best when it's political, lampooning the current administration and the overall obsession with military spending and posturing, or even its AOC caricature. But it's generally too uneven and sometimes a little limp to be declared an immediate success.
It took The Office a while to find its feet and its voice, not really hitting its highs until at least midway through season two, so Space Force may very well just need some time. It took several episodes just to humanise Carell's character.
The problem with needing more time is that with the bloated TV line-up now, it may not get a chance to make a second or third impression.
Audiences are being wooed with a gazillion new shows every month and if it doesn't dazzle straight away, they'll drop it for one of the other 17 things clamouring for their attention, even when there's star power like Carell and Malkovich involved.
If Space Force doesn't hook you, try that instead.
Space Force is available to stream on Netflix now
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Originally published as Carell's new Netflix series starts tonight