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Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Space Force review: The dark side of the moon

Space Force brings the dream team of Carell and Greg Daniels, who gave us the supremely brilliant The Office seven years ago. But the Space Force is no Office, even though almost every second thing in the show reminds us of it.

Rating: 2 out of 5
Written by Ektaa Malik | Updated: May 30, 2020 8:39:17 am
Space Force Space Force is streaming on Netflix.

Space Force cast: Steve Carell, John Malkovich, Lisa Kudrow
Space Force creators: Greg Daniels and Steve Carell
Space Force rating: Two stars

“I don’t know, but I have been told, outer space is very cold” is the catchy tune that members of the Space Force chant as they go about their morning run on the premises of the Space base in Wild Horse, Colorado. And as all the oil reserves on earth have been conquered, so of course, now America is attempting to ‘put boots on the moon’ in Netflix’s latest big-ticket item, Space Force. The ten-part series, is replete with references to Star Wars, Star Trek and many other pop-cultural phenomena. General Mark Naird (Carell), a four-star general, has been tasked to head Space Force, a new branch of the US armed forces, and the mission is to put ‘boots on the moon, actually, it was boobs on the moon’ explains the Defence secretary to Naird, who’s clearly feeling out of his depth in the new surroundings of a space base in small-town Colorado. We follow Naird around his mission aided by chief scientist Adrian Mallory (Malkovich) as they bumble around one mission after the other.

If only Space Force was a show just about sending people to the moon. Or it was a comical take on what really goes into sending stuff into outer space. It could have been The Office, with just a bigger acreage. Space Force brings the dream team of Carell and Greg Daniels, who gave us the supremely brilliant The Office seven years ago. But the Space Force is no Office, even though almost every second thing in the show reminds us of it. At the core of the show lies the dynamics between Mallory and Naird, and while one doesn’t ‘understand science’ and other’s ‘loyalty to reason’ is deemed a problem, they always have each other’s back. After a tough day, they kick back a few drinks and even go tie shopping together. Very reminiscent of the dynamics between Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute in The Office, of course here, they are both equals and the stakes are much higher than just reams of paper.

Space Force functions and bumble its way on three levels, one is the main narrative of the mission to the moon, the other is the inner, personal struggles of Naird and the third superimposed one is the satire on the current US government. There are many jokes on POTUS — he is never named, but everything points to Donald Trump and his love for Twitter; there is a whole mini-arc on how the First Lady wishes to design uniforms for the Space Force, enter Melania right on cue. Naird’s media advisor is called F Tony Scarapiducci, a nod to former White House Communications director Anthony Scaramucci and we also meet ‘an angry young congresswoman’, complete with the trademark red lipstick and snazzy blazers of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

While The Office had a golden run with its highly quirky, but relatable characters, Space Force seems to be retrofitting things to the narrative of the characters, which we feel we have all seen, heard or read about somewhere. Lisa Kudrow — the only character from Friends who looks her age — plays the wife of Naird who, we find in the second episode, is serving a jail sentence for 40 years. Apart from the whole ‘orange is the new black’ thing that she has going for her, we never find out what heinous crime she really committed. There is also Erin, Naird’s daughter, who is having a tough time in small-town Colorado and puts the whole ‘single father’ arc for Naird in place. Ben Schwartz as F Tony is repeating his overzealous, fast-talking, avatar of Jean Ralphio from Parks and Recreation. And even though the body language of Naird is distinctly different from Michael Scott, the way the four-star general shuts himself in his giant office is too much of a throwback to the regional manager of Dunder Mifflin. Except while Scott cried in his office, this one sings songs from rock bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Things just happen ‘too conveniently’ in Space Force. And at times, the result is too caricaturesque. Remember the basketball match that took place between the staff of Dunder Mifflin and the warehouse workers? And where Michael Scott meandered his way to a last-minute win by fluffing up the rules, even though the warehouse team was clearly winning by a huge margin? We see something similar happening here in the final turf war between Air Force and Space Force, and Space Force is saved by the skin of their teeth by the last-minute scientific brilliance of Dr Mallory. There are also heartfelt speeches, which appeal to higher spirit and cause, and would not feel out of place in a The West Wing episode.

Maybe keeping in with tradition, the meandering first season could very well be a precursor to a hit series. Daniels suffered the same with Parks and Recreation and even with The Office. In the meanwhile, the soundtrack is something of a must-have. You might just end up humming Kokomo from The Beach Boys.

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