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Netflix is queuing up a creator-and-actor reunion that fans have long been begging for, with The Office's Greg Daniels and Steve Carell having teamed up once again for the new satirical comedy Space Force, which will premiere on Friday, May 29. Following a pretty solid pair of trailers that got viewers excited, reviews have now been released, and unfortunately, Space Force doesn't exactly sound like a giant leap for mankind's entertainment needs.
The series has a strange origin story, in that it was put into motion by Netflix months after President Donald Trump established the U.S. Space Force in 2019, despite the general lack of a central concept. Though only some reviewers single out the arguably forced creative process as blameworthy, many flatly claim (in relatively similar terms) that Space Force implodes upon blasting off. Though the show did secure some positive reviews from pleased promoters – with basically everyone agreeing that John Malkovich is as great as ever – the more widespread opinions are pretty dour indeed. Let's take a look at both sides of the government-minted coin after a quick summary.
Steve Carell plays Space Force's gravelly voiced Mark Naird, a four-star Air Force General who uproots his family after being tasked to head up the newly developed moon-minded branch. A hard-nosed military lifer, the constantly put-upon Naird can't properly balance his farcically stressful job duties with his unwisely rebellious daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) and his wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow), who has her own issues to attend to. At work, Naird reckons with the highly pent-up genius Dr. Adrian Mallory (played the the), the mostly useless assistant Brad (Don Lake), the hyper-aggro rival Kick Grabaston (Noah Emmerich), the disastrous media manager F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz) and more. Characters who attempt not to screw everything up include Space Force pilot Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome) and Mallory's head scientist Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang).
While Space Force does make vague references to the real-world President through Twitter references and the like, Donald Trump's name is never mentioned, and the show isn't really concerned with any political targeting. Over at EW, the take was that Greg Daniels and Steve Carell (who made serious bank on this show) definitely made the wrong choice in choosing not to pick any sides when telling its story, and that the show fails to meet the expectations inspired by the A-list ensemble.
In the run-up to the show's launch, both Daniels and Carell have insisted that they're not interested in taking sides in Space Force, which is entirely their prerogative. But in their efforts to remain apolitical, Daniels and Carell have failed to give their series any discernible point of view, delivering instead an innocuous and startlingly unfunny sitcom about military bureaucracy. . . . If space is a vacuum, Force is a kind of TV black hole: A-list stars and lots of Netflix money go in, and what comes out is a big old nothing.
The review from THR also hones in on the perceived lack of focused comedic perspective as a foundation for its complaints about Space Force, calling out the earliest episodes in particular for failing to develop the solid footing that later episodes needed.
The series is a satire on a piece of globally (and cosmically) impactful policy that Daniels and Carell want to avoid treating as political or ideological. So other than a general 'Isn't this a wacky thing a wacky president thought up!' perspective, I don't know what the show thinks is funny about the idea of a Space Force. And without that, it's hard to see where Mark is supposed to be funny. . . . Space Force just isn't close to consistent — especially in the first half of the season, the misses outweigh the hits — and even as it settles into itself a little more, it's hard to buy all the eventual smoothing out of characters and plot lines from that choppy beginning.
Within Nerdist's review, it was the all-around inconsistency of both Space Force's tone and character development that inspired the most negative opinions, as seen below.
At certain points it feels like biting satire, others complete farce. Sometimes the show is super silly and surreal, and other times it feels like a straight comedy. That inconsistent tone makes it so that you never know what you’re watching or what you’ll get from scene to scene, episode to episode. Contributing to the show’s inconsistent comedic voice, Steve Carell’s General Mark Naird is whatever the script needs him to be in the moment rather than a consistent character with clear motivations. He mostly seems highly competent and upstanding, but occasionally he acts like a total idiot.
To the above points, Space Force does sometimes feel like an unblinking reflection of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, where characters defend moronic standpoints with 100% confidence. Elsewhere, though, certain scenes from Naird's personal life are more akin to a Judd Apatow feature in how they attempt to add and remove layers to and from the character's personality. They both work well enough separately, but the combination seems to have thrown some viewers for the wrong kind of loop.
While a larger number of Space Force opinions skewed negative and concentrated on the reviewers' gripes with the show, there are definitely some kinder analyses out there from those who didn't view solely through the rose-colored glasses of expectations. Take this one from IndieWire, which acknowledges Space Force's missed opportunities while also embracing the winning qualities that are readily on display.
With a clenched jaw, gray hair, and raspy growl, Carell feels like he’s bringing Brad Pitt’s “War Machine” caricature down to Earth; he walks a fine line between cartoonish indifference and wearied heroics, and Carell usually hits the right mark for each moment. When he has to reach for the laugh, he tends to get it. . . . Anyone expecting a Veep-level satire or Office-like innovation may be disappointed. Season 2, which seems inevitable given the talent involved, could easily go haywire or refine itself into something better. As it stands, Space Force is clearly made with joy. Maybe it won’t fill the Office-sized hole in Netflix subscribers’ hearts when the series leaves the service later this year, and perhaps it could serve a greater purpose than silly fun. But I certainly prefer this version over one that only aims to recreate the past.
As well, this take from BGR (whose reviewer was so happy with the series that he watched the whole thing twice) spotlights Greg Daniels' approach to seemingly unexciting topics for TV comedies, as well as the out-of-this-world situations that Space Force sets up.
If you were a fan of The Office and Parks and Recreation, you’ll find plenty to like here. The banter is similarly rapid-fire, the ensemble cast offers comic relief in abundance, and there are plenty of moments during which we get a satirical wink-and-nod at current events. . . . From the intra-military rivalries fueled by Space Force, to Naird’s constant rallying cry of 'Boots on the moon!' and the ongoing quest by his underlings for their mission to be seen as worthy of respect... this is a breezy, easy-to-binge Netflix comedy definitely deserving of a spot on your quarantine binge list — and which also happens to have an inspirational message, to boot.
In the end, potential viewers can come away from Space Force's initial reviews with a few key things in mind. John Malkovich is fantastic, as is most of the recurring cast; Steve Carell is pretty great, even though his character's arcs don't do him any favors; and the creative team probably could have used more time locking down tonal synergy for its far-reaching storylines. So depending on how much your mileage varies with each of those points, you might adore Space Force's bizarreness, or you might think it deserves to burn up in the atmosphere. There's only one way to find out for sure, though.