Space Force: Season 1 (Netflix original) — a review

I log onto Facebook just often enough to react to things friends have posted on my page, and to add the requisite “likes” or the proper emojis to what my wife has posted.

I seldom post anything these days. I also avoid reading too much of what’s been posted. My friends from high school and college all seem to have strongly-held opinions about every subject under the sun, notably politics, race relations, and conspiracy theories. Reading too many of these opinions makes my head hurt and causes me to empathize with Kevin McCarthy’s character in the 1956 movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when everyone he knew was replaced by a pod person.

But, I happened to see someone’s comment on the Netflix series Space Force soon after the first season dropped. I’m paraphrasing here, but the meat of the comment was that this show seemed like Steve Carell‘s Michael Scott character left Dunder-Mifflin and took charge of NASA. Further, if I am a fan of the US version of The Office, then I would certainly like Space Force as well.

Aside from the fact that this recommendation was posted on Facebook, let me tell you what’s wrong with these statements. First, it seems to assume that Steve Carell is incapable of playing a character in a comedy who is not Michael Scott. Second, it assumes, just because the series was created by Greg Daniels and Steve Carell, both of whom were involved with The Office, that this new series is another workplace comedy just like that one.

Both of these assumptions are wrong, of course. Steve Carell has more acting range than some give him credit for. Carell’s Space Force character, four-star general Mark R. Naird, is not Michael Scott. He’s a career soldier who seems almost devoid of a sense of humor, even Scott’s inappropriate one, a husband and a father and the leader of the newly-formed space branch of the armed forces. Not Michael Scott.

And this isn’t The Office. Not really. There are elements of that show in that both introduce a diverse collection of characters who demonstrate individual personalities, frailties and drives, all forced by circumstances to interact with each other. Instead of a paper company, this time, it’s this newly-minted military branch called Space Force.

The workplace elements of the show do factor heavily into the story, of course. Steve Carell’s unlikely co-star in this series (a co-male lead, in fact) is none other than John Malkovich as Dr. Adrian Mallory, this show’s main science guy. At times, I was convinced that Malkovich forgot that this was supposed to be a comedy, because he’s acting his tail off in this. The fact that Malkovich is acting so seriously makes the times he’s hitting the comedy notes even more hilarious. Steve Carell and John Malkovich is not a pairing I would have recommended for any project, prior to this. It’s not just that these two actors make it work. This show is positively at its best when the two share a scene together.

Other major “workplace” characters include: F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz), a social media consultant; Brad Gregory (Don Lake), General Naird’s executive assistant; Capt. Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome), a helicopter pilot; and, Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang), a scientist on Dr. Mallory’s staff destined to play Jim to Capt. Ali’s Pam. General Naird has to react daily to the mercurial whims and ludicrous ideas of an off-screen President of the United States, a caricature so absurd it couldn’t possibly be based on a real American president. Could it?

The most cartoonish portion of the workplace story lines are the war room scenes, which remind me—structurally, at least—of the situation room scenes on The West Wing. The leaders of other branches of the armed services include Diedrich Bader, Noah Emmerich, Jane Lynch, and Patrick Warburton. The acting in these scenes goes a bit broad. Honestly, you can’t expect this group not to be funny, though.

But, the series is more than a workplace comedy. It’s also a family drama. General Naird’s wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) is in prison. I thought maybe I missed the explanation for Maggie’s incarceration, but when I looked it up on-line, I saw that I missed nothing. We don’t find out any details of Maggie’s crime during this first season. We just know that Maggie’s forced absence leaves the general having to parent their teenaged daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) alone. It also leads to story threads such as prison visitation days (including conjugal visits), and how Mark and Maggie deal with loneliness and lack of physical intimacy. Erin has her own individual story arc, and gets into the sorts of scrapes that teenagers are supposed to.

I like the portions of this show that deal with the characters’ personal lives. They make them seem more real to me.

However, this series seems to suffer from the same sort of first-season growing pains that most television series—including The Office—seem to suffer. It’s trying on a lot of different hats. Military/political satire. Traditional workplace situation comedy. Family dramedy. The tone of the show is often inconsistent. But, by the end of the short season, it seems to have found a more secure footing.

Given time, I think this show will work out its kinks. It has a solid pedigree and an excellent cast. As of the day I’m writing this, Space Force hasn’t formally been given a pickup order by Netflix, although its performance for the streaming service makes it almost a sure thing. Almost.

Like most of the critics I’ve read, I’m not exactly over-the-moon about this series. I do like it, though. And, I could imagine a day when I might love it. It has potential.

Firewater’s As-a-Scientist-You-Have-a-Loyalty-to-Reason-It-Makes-You-a-Little-Untrustworthy Report Card: B

If there is a second season, I will be watching it.

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