The undeniable hype couldn’t be higher for a project headed by the creator of Parks and Recreation and Michael Scott himself, Steve Carell. Armed with a budget bigger than most action movies have, an all star cast, a high concept about a mission to the moon, and the biggest TV platform in the world, we really should have foreseen the result; disappointment.
Most of the comedy in Space Force fundamentally doesn’t work. Carell plays an essentially Michael Scott-type character, but the character is an Armed Forces general and works alongside scientists, so there’s no way the character can be that dumb. Not only that, but Carell puts on this stern general-type accent and it’s impossible to make his lines funny with that forced dialect. The show is at odds with itself as it tries to be this expertly high concept series but also as this wacky successor to The Office and Parks and Recreation.
No comedy should have this high of a budget. I think the show’s budget is a hindrance to show’s comedy. The production value distracts away from the comedy. This is a sitcom that has the budget of an action movie, and it really doesn’t need it.
Though the concept is completely ludicrous, Space Force does drama surprisingly well. There are genuine moments of emotion in the show in almost every episode. Sometimes it comes off as forced, other times it comes off as completely heartfelt and realistic. The relationship between Carell and his wife is wonderful, if a bit weird at times, but where the maturity of the show shines is between him and Malory, played by John Malkovich, who steals the show as the socially inept lead scientist.
The supporting characters have been cast brilliantly. Ben Schwartz as an annoying PR guy is genius. Him and Don Lake make a great argumentative comedy duo. Chris Gethard and Aparna Nancherla appear in the last few episodes as two dim-witted astronauts, and it’s unfortunate that they feature so late in the season because together with Schwartz, they almost save the show.
Space Force peaks early in episode two, with the ridiculous plot in which the characters have to teach a monkey to weld back together a broken satellite in space. It is the one episode that is as funny and as clever as the show thinks it is. There were at least a couple of episodes that were so rough and completely void of any humor. And the running gag of Carell’s character’s habit of singing to calm down and relieve stress falls totally flat. It feels stiff and forced.
Space Force seems like it was Steve Carell’s passion project, and unfortunately that’s how it looks on screen. However, it’s only the first season and comedies very rarely nail it this early in. Even The Office needed one season to find its footing.