Watching “Space Force” reminds me of how so many of us wanted to be astronauts when we were kids.
I mean, you got to go to rarely charted territories, live in space, wear a cool suit and eat space ice cream.
But then you found out it took a lot of work and preparation, walking through political red tape and, as it turns out, space ice cream was just a clever bit of marketing.
“Space Force,” the new Netflix sitcom from “The Office” co-creator Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell, looks really great on paper. Who wouldn’t want another comedy from “The Office” guys? And it might take place in space with actors like John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Lisa Kudrow and a laundry list of talented comedians — even better!
The talent involved with this, as well as it being Carell’s first sitcom since “The Office,” make the expectations astronomical. In order for that to work, it’s going to take a good story and clever jokes to make it worthy of even occupying the same air space as “The Office.” This simply doesn’t have either.
Carell adopts a grating R. Lee Ermey-esque gravelly voice as General Mark R. Naird, the first person to be given the title of Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations. It’s not necessarily a title he wants, as it means he’ll have to deal with balancing a variety of egos, including the Dr. Strangelove-like Dr. Adrian Mallory (Malkovich), the annoying social media hype man F. Tony Scarapiducci (Schwartz), a snarky Space Force employee Dr. Chen Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang) and a absent-minded secretary, Brad (Don Lake).
Naird has to balance that with his personal life, including a rebelling daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers), and an imprisoned wife, Maggie (Kudrow). He gets through it by barking orders, flexing his masculinity and breaking into the occasional oldies song. Compared to Carell’s aloof “Office” character Michael Scott, Naird is much more abrasive and a lot less funny.
“The Office” comparisons are unavoidable because of the workplace comedy framing and the people involved with this. But it couldn’t be more different and far less clever. Shot by “Doctor Who” cinematographer Simon Chapman, “Space Force” has more of a traditional network drama feel than the shaky camera footage of that workplace comedy. So anyone expecting the pacing, relatable characters and fourth-wall breaks should be prepared for, as a better TV show once said, something completely different.
There’s also the matter of the material. This is a TV-MA show, so by the sixth F-word of the first episode, it’s likely that the families that gathered around for “The Office” will be hitting the home button of their streaming player.
For those who stick around, be prepared for a bumpy flight. For the first five episodes, the show struggles to find its place. There are storylines with training idiot astronaut soldiers, Naird’s rivalry with a fellow serviceman and frequent unfunny, dead-subplots with his daughter dating a Russian.
While the show slightly improves as it delves into the “Odd Couple”-like dynamic between Naird’s uptight-yet-oblivious meathead persona and Mallory’s quiet, tempered character, it’s too weighed down by everything around it to call it a redemptive subplot.
By the time it got to the cliffhanger of its 10th episode, I felt like I had had enough, which feels bad to say. Everyone in the cast is clearly shooting for the stars with their performances, but the material they’re given craters so hard that you can’t help but feel that, much like the prospect of a real-life Space Force, this is a big waste of time and money.