Arriving with undue and almost indecent haste, Netflix’s new satire sets its sites on one of the more ludicrous examples of Presidential hubris only to find that in its haste to launch early, its trajectory is slightly miscalculated and most of the humour fails to land on the designated target.
When General Naird (Steve Carrell) receives his fourth star he assumes he’s about to be put in charge of the US Air Force. Instead, he’s placed in charge of the newest branch of the US military, the latest brain fart of President Unnamed but you-know-who, Space Force with the mission to militarise Space and seize it for the US of A. Tasked with Making Space Great Again, Naird finds himself working alongside principled scientist Dr Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich) and pestered by his social media manager F Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz) as they desperately try to keep up with the whims and mood swings of the petulant Twitterer-in-Chief.
It’s a premise ripe for comic exploitation therefore it’s something of a surprise that Carell and co-creator Greg Daniels seem to be pulling their punches right from the beginning, walking an uneasy and ultimately unsatisfying line of sci-fi dramedy. Having assembled a talented comic cast, the scripts proceed to give them very little funny to do. It’s almost as if, having decided to mock the very notion of the attempted militarisation of space, they abruptly decided not to do anything that might alienate any members of the audience who would unironically embrace the idea of Making Space Great Again.
Carell and Malkovich are great and bring a lot more to the material than likely appeared on the page. Carell manages to entirely avoid the trap of making Naird a four-star lapelled Michael Scott knock-off, although every now and again the voice of Dru creeps in. His General is an honourable man saddled with a dishonourable duty and balancing a mysteriously decimated personal life with a chaotic professional one whereas Malkovich brings a wonderfully sardonic cynicism to bear on the scientist on the verge of achieving his lifelong dream but struggling with the compromises required to bring it to fruition. One of the unexpected delights of the series is the genuinely warm and authentic friendship which forms between these unlikeliest of allies as they navigate the perils and pitfalls of political, military and commercial reality.
The supporting cast, although largely underdeveloped, are good value too but again everything is played a little to straight and a little too safe to be very funny, although Tawny Newsome (as would-be astronaut Captain Angela Ali) still makes a real impression as one to watch. Even the star-name chamber of the Joint Chiefs (featuring the likes of Jane Lynch, Patrick Warburton and Noah Emmerich) feels subdued when it should be savage. There are chuckles to be had, of course, and plenty of wry smiles but a desire to – thankfully – avoid an overabundance of the kind of relentless ‘shtick’ which fatally undermined the likes of “Ghostbusters: Answer The Call” leads to too many times when it feels lethargically flat. “Space Force” has the right stuff, it’s just not using it in the right way.
Overall, though, it’s decently diverting and the perfect ‘background watch’ to have on while you do other things. The first ten episodes leave enough threads dangling as well as lunar and Earth-bound cliff-hangers that give me hope that a second season, with a bit more confidence and courage to really skewer its satirical target, may just slip the surly bonds of season one and touch the face of comedy greatness.