Whether you know it or not, comedy producer/director Greg Daniels has played a major role in shaping much of modern-day sitcoms. The man has created landmark mockumentary sitcoms like The Office and Parks and Recreation. He has also been a producer on legendary animated shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill. Most people, however, know him for his work on The Office and Parks. Two comedy TV series that have become pop-culture icons over the years and have gone on to inspire countless memes and Netflix binge rewatch parties. And while I respect Daniels’ many achievements over the years, I can’t say I really took to any of his shows.
They do well at first but over time, they tend to fall into predictable and uninspiring formulas. The intra-office romances, the petty squabbling between oddball characters, innocuous non-sequitur jokes. You know what I mean. Most of the time, these formulaic tropes and cliches are offset by the shows’ lovable cast of quirky characters and Daniels’ signature sitcom sentimentality. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough babbling weirdos and emotional payoffs to cover the painfully dull disaster that is Daniels’ latest venture, alongside Steve Carell, Space Force.
Space Force all the way!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 9, 2018
Remember when Trump made that ridiculous statement about creating his very own version of Starfleet using a new branch of the military? Boy, did we all have a good laugh! Here’s the problem. Though that ludicrous statement may have been funny enough for a brief segment on late-night shows, it’s doesn’t have enough comedic punch to warrant a 10-episode web series. Especially, since that joke was told around two years ago. It goes without saying that Carrell and Daniels definitely arrived late to the party. Nonetheless, let’s see what we have here. Perhaps, the show has enough humourous firepower to keep the premise alive.
Space Force is a workplace comedy series in the same vein as Park. It follows Carell’s General Mark R. Naird, a former Air Force General tasked with the inauspicious job of heading America’s Space Force. With his motley gang of scientists, amateur astronauts and one very annoying media manager, Naird will boldly colonize where no man has colonized before. He is looking to establish the very first moon colony. His ambitions may come at a high price which could cost him his family and professional career. Let the rockets fly and the cringe-inducing bits come.
Daniels and Carrell’s Space Force had a real opportunity to provide some biting satire on American exceptionalism, the military-industrial complex and the military’s obscenely bloated budget. At times, the series comes rather close in providing witty commentary about the aforementioned topics. Which is why this show is so frustrating. Space Force flirts with the idea of satirizing and lampooning the absurdity of America’s runaway military but never commits to it. Its refusal to call out national bravado and inefficacy of the American war machine feels like a betrayal of its bold premise. If you’re going to make a joke at the Trump Administration’s expense, then you better go for the killing blow. Right now, Space Force barely registers on the radar.
I will say this, fans of Daniels’ previous works will definitely feel right at home with Space Force. All the awkward, cringe humour one could ask for is on display in Space Force. Served up with a heaping pile of contrived office romance. Really, I’m not joking. Within this first season, the show wastes no time in establishing all the major relationships it’s hoping to pay off in record time, with barebone setups. Shows like How I Met Your Mother or Parks all knew better than to play their hands too early. You slowly, but surely, sow the seeds between characters with subtle banter and a few good jokes. Allow the chemistry to simmer and settle over time. What you don’t do is introduce a potential love interest in one episode and have them go steady three episodes down the line. That’s just lazy.
I’m not a heartless monster though and I’ll admit that I did find Silicon Valley‘s Jimmy O. Yang and Tawny Newsome’s character romance to be quite sweet and wholesome. That one felt somewhat earned, in a sea of hit-and-misses. Most of the show’s limited success can be attributed to the show’s cast of talented comedians and actors who do shine in certain moments, even if the material given to them is complete drivel. Carrell does his best impression of a hard-case conservative general, which sadly stays an impression. There’s no real charm or self-awareness to his performance that in turn generates real depth to the character. Still, his manic energy does deliver a chuckle or two sometimes.
On the other hand, John Malkovich as Naird’s wisecracking chief scientist Dr Adrian Mallory manages to inject a healthy dose wit and charisma to an otherwise blatant Dwight stand-in. Weirdly enough, some of the funniest scenes in the show comes from its occasional guest star. The standouts here are voice actor Patrick Warburton and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Kaitlin Olson who make brief appearances in the show. I suspect that most of their lines are more ad-libbed than scripted, which is probably why they work. Where the show completely ruins what little goodwill it has left is with Ben Schwartz as Space Force’s social media manager. Never have I seen a show try this hard to make “timely social media trends” #funny and #relatable, and fail so miserably.
Creator Greg Daniels and company shot for the stars and landed squarely on the nose. Space Force is a painful rehash of sitcom television’s best hits with none of the ingenuity and care that came before it. The first season ends on a cliffhanger that leaves room for a potential turnaround next season. I certainly hope Space Force learns from its mistakes of repetition and recycling of frankly antiquated comedic archetypes. I do earnestly believe that Space Force isn’t a lost cause. It requires a radicle reconception and a bolder approach in its observations of the American military-industrial complex. Till something is done though, it’s hard to recommend Space Force in its current state to anyone beyond shallow neo-liberals and the most ardent of Daniels’ fans. You can now catch the first season of Space Force on Netflix today.