Netflix UK TV review: Space Force
Ivan Radford | On 29, May 2020
Steve Carell. Greg Daniels. Space. The ingredients for Netflix’s new comedy series are as close to sitcom rocket fuel as TV gets. The two key players behind The Office (US), a rare example of a remake better than the original, heading to the moon? What could possibly go wrong? Houston, unfortunately, does have a problem, and that’s the fact that most of what this mild satire can come up with is already entirely too plausible.
Donald Trump’s rallying cry to get “boots on the moon by 2024” was the inspiration for the show, which dives straight into how exactly that could happen, with General Naird (Steve Carell) given the task of heading up the new Space Force. The mission? Militarise space, taking no prisoners. Within an episode, their work is already being taken prisoner, as Chinese satellites swoop down and snip the US vessels to bits.
Naird’s attempts to achieve the impossible are both helped and hindered by the ensemble around him, which range from the arrogant Dr. Mallory (John Malkovich) to the clueless media consultant F. Tony (Ben Schwartz), while Naird’s world-weary daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers) and his wife, Maggie (an underused Lisa Kudrow), who appears to be in prison.
Tawny Newsome steals scenes as Angela Ali, a helicopter pilot who’s not afraid to strike out on her own trajectory, but the group of characters are mostly unmemorable, whether it’s Naird’s old rival, now head of the Air Force, or his various underlings and secretaries who don’t make much of a impression. That could well change given more episodes, but based on the opening third of the season, the series hangs on Carell’s own comic presence.
Fortunately, Carell’s never less than entertaining to watch – and, crucially, never less than likeable, as Greg Daniels retains his trademark ability to make even the most buffoonish of individuals sympathetic. And Naird is surprisingly sympathetic, as he tries to be a good dad, as he tries to meet the absurd orders given to him, as he tries not to accidentally send a rocket into space with his shoe and cost the country billions of dollars.
Malkovich, meanwhile, is understated as Mallory, who mostly plays the straight man to Carell’s fool, looking disapproving as Naird causes some kind of chaos in an awkward situation. It’s the kind of workplace dynamic that has potential, if Space Force can find its way into a consistent orbit around your funny bone. Every now and then, it really does lift off – one sequence in Episode 2, which sees Naird trying to communicate with a chimpanzee, is laugh-out-loud hilarious.
That’s partly because it’s a rare moment when the series manages to go so surreal and silly that not even real life politics can compete, and it’s partly because, just for a second, Space Force manages to make you believe that America might just pull it off. Whether you will come out of the first few episodes of Netflix’s sitcom feeling the same way is another matter, but there are glimpses of hope on the horizon.
Space Force is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.