Netflix's Space Force Director On Reuniting With The Office's Steve Carell And Greg Daniels

general mark naird in uniform in his office on Space Force
(Image credit: netflix)

For its second season premiering on Netflix in February, the overtly satirical comedy Space Force made two big changes. First, it lowered its episode count to seven, from ten. Second, the Steve Carell-starring series eschewed the first season’s multi-director approach and brought TV and film vet Ken Kwapis in to handle all the installments. Which means this marked the first time Kwapis reunited with Carell and his other former The Office colleague Greg Daniels, and without any of John Krasinski’s Jim mugging the camera.

Ahead of Space Force’s big debut on Netflix, CinemaBlend spoke with Ken Kwapis about his latest Netflix offering — he also helmed episodes of Kenya Barris’ #BlackAF and the hilarious Santa Clarita Diet — and I asked how he felt about reteaming with Carell and Daniels for another high-profile comedy series. Here’s what he told me:

It was a wonderful reunion. This is the first time Steve, Greg, and I have worked together since The Office, and I was very excited that they invited me not just to do an episode or two, but to do the entire season. And that's a first for me; that's the first time I've ever directed an entire season of any series. Now, granted, it's only seven episodes, but that's equivalent of a three-and-a-half-hour feature. And we boarded it, we scheduled it like a feature, and I think the cast really appreciated kind of having one director oversee the whole thing. It's not that common in series television. It's getting to be a little more so in the streaming era. But still, it's not that common, especially in a comedy, to have one director oversee a whole season.

At this point, it’s been nearly nine years since The Office wrapped up its nine-season run with “The Finale,” which Kwapis directed. (He was also behind the camera for the pilot and eleven additional episodes.) So it’s awesome that Greg Daniels brought the filmmaker in not just to handle the Season 2 bookends, but rather to steer the entire ship from departure to arrival. Probably not the most miserable goal to try and accomplish, considering how many ridiculously talented people are a part of Space Force’s ensemble cast.

It is odd that drama tends to opt for single-director projects more than comedies, by and large. It’s not as if funny projects aren’t made better by having a singular vision. Certainly a sitcom in front of a live audience will only have so many ways of being approached, but those are obviously fewer and farther between now. 

When I asked Ken Kwapis if the single-director plan was part of the reason why Greg Daniels reached out to him specifically, and here’s what the filmmaker said:

Yeah, I think that Steve and Greg also wanted me to focus on character, comedy, and performance. I think they both felt that the first season was audacious, it was ambitious, it was visually very striking. But they wanted, in the second season, to focus a little bit more on kind of putting the emphasis on performance and also focusing a little bit more on the core ensemble. Which is, I would say as as a director, it's hard to imagine being blessed with a better ensemble than Steve Carell John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Tawny Newsome, Jimmy O. Yang, Don Lake, Diana Silvers; and I feel like my job was to sort of tell the story of this workplace family. In season two, obviously, they are the underdogs, they are very much the underdogs.

The first season had its ups and downs, and the story did go in perhaps a few too many different directions. There’s certainly a changed approach with Season 2, with the majority of the series taking place within the Space Force professional bubble itself, minus a few flashback detours. 

For Ken Kwapis, part of the draw in bringing his talents to Space Force was the higher stakes facing the characters in Season 2. Without getting too spoilery, he said:

I love the idea that right from the get-go, we learn that Space Force is on probation. The near calamity on the moon at the end of the first season has resulted in severe budget cuts, and that Steve's character has basically three months to prove himself or he'll be replaced. So the stakes are high for the group as a whole, and what I also love about the scripts this season, is that the stakes are high for each of the individuals, I feel like each of those key actors, their characters have very distinct and emotional journeys over the course of the season. So in addition to getting to work with a lot of gifted comic actors, there's also good stories to tell.

There’s something so satisfying about seeing a comedic genius such as Steve Carell be on the brink of stress-induced panic, with stakes that are both sky-high and also patently ridiculous. I feel less sympathetic about Don Lake’s Brad, since he never seems like anything bothers him very much, unless it’s someone bad-mouthing Naird and his decisions.

After seeing how General Naird and his bumbling crew handle things in Season 2, fans can anticipate Greg Daniels potentially answering all the questions we still have about Upload when Season 2 arrives on Prime Video in March. And what better way to spend time until then than by checking out some of the other times the Office squad has reunited over the years. 

Both seasons of Space Force are currently available to stream in full on Netflix, and be sure to check out all the other big TV shows heading to Netflix later this year. And if that’s not enough entertainment for you, our 2022 TV premiere schedule has you covered.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.