Unloved and Misunderstood
“Space Force” | Season one, 10 episodes | Netflix, 2020
While comedic sitcoms usually take a while to find their footing on the way to a successful vehicle, the creators of “Space Force” seem to be striding the fence here in their pursuit of a balance between comedy and darker social satire. Steve Carnell and Greg Daniels have literally packed each 30 min episode with enough material to stretch it to an hour, but that would effect the flow too much, so “Space Force” conforms to the half hour format in hopes of finding an audience with the average limited attention span for comedies these days.
Carnell plays the general in charge of Space Force, Trump’s latest invention to keep his simple take on reality and romantic notion of what armed forces should be now. Now I should state that Trump is never mentioned by name, nor are really any references here specific, but alert sycophants should pick it up they’re talking about here and now. While some of these jokes are simple and obvious, “Space Force” is loaded with quieter, subtler, textural elements that belie more than just your typical half hour sitcom.
First, casting John Malkovich as his civilian counterpart, is a perfect compliment/foil for Carell’s by the numbers, stiff, obedient military character. They really don’t plow against one another in the typical protagonist/antagonist relationship, but rather compliment each other in their cooperation and clashes, bringing for a genuinely unique approach to what one would be expecting from such a relationship. The setting of “Space Force,” with its pseudo sci-fi action genre, makes the most of the thirty minute drive toward a conclusion with lots of tidbits that you have to look for to appreciate totally. It’s not necessarily about the absurd reality of its situation, but the reactions and motivations of its characters here that keep you interested. The nuances of their relationships, coinciding with the genuinely human dictates of what they’re about drive your interest.
It has plenty of humor, but no laugh tracks here, you either are paying attention and getting the jibes, or you’re not, which is ok. The serious manner depicting its characters gives it a feel of caring and understanding, not two dimensional characters in service of the unusual two plot story carried to a neat conclusion, but gives it an outlier feel.
Also present in this dramedy are some solid use of bit casting, giving its humor weight and double take seriousness for a two edged sword type of approach. While it’s finding its way, Space Force never goes the easy route in its ten episodes (except for perhaps the one featuring a competition between two warring military factions to control Space Force). Also wildly unusual are Carell’s relationships with his wife (Lisa Kudrow, of all actors, who was thrown in jail for life after the first episode for a reason we still don’t know), his complicated, uncomfortable yet very funny scenes with a female head contractor at the base, and his abrasive, yet acceptable ones with his rival heads of the other branches of the armed services of whom Space Force is consuming larger monetary budgets than theirs. Jimmy Yang, quietly and carefully understated as Malkovich’s head assistant, and Tawny Hewsome, as Carell’s aide de camp in a spectrum of roles, are fleshed out nicely, and add greatly to overall recipe. Perhaps Diana Silvers, as his put upon daughter, is still in its developmental infancy stage, is the least satisfying, but since she plays it straight and isn’t out of place I’ll forgive this.
The stories of “Space Force” aren’t just about the ridiculousness of the current world and of the current Washington administration, or even the semi fantasy world the characters live in. While it’s finding its feet in its first ten episodes while trying something different, it succeeds more often than not, and I genuinely hope to see a second to witness whether they succeed. A personal experiment for Carell and Daniels, one that deserves to find an audience and reach its conclusion.