‘Space Force’ is a Shallow Satire, but the Cast Bring Their A-Game

Netflix

It’s almost impossible to not think about Donald Trump while watching Space Force, Greg Daniels and Steve Carell’s new show about the intersection of military, politics, and science that will launch on Netflix this Friday. Granted, the show is inspired by the POTUS’ tweet back in 2018 when he announced that he’s opening a new US Military Branch called Space Force. While some of the show’s elements do indeed mock its source material, Space Force isn’t entirely a satire. It’s also a workplace comedy, a family drama, and a story about the importance of cooperation. Not all of it works, especially when it leans heavily on a hopeful message that goes the complete opposite way to the reality it wanted to mirror in the first place. But for the most part, Space Force gets the job done in providing enjoyable escapism that we could all use right now, and that alone should warrant a watch.

Set in the near future, Space Force focuses on Mark R. Naird (Steve Carell), a decorated pilot and a four-star General who’s been dreaming of running the US Air Force for a very long time. When we first meet him, he seems like a guy who has everything he could possibly ask for. His wife, Maggie Naird (Lisa Kudrow), and daughter, Erin Naird (Diana Silvers), are supportive; it looks like he’s on a good path to achieving his dream of becoming the head of the Air Force. But of course, that’s just what it seems at first. Instead of running his desired military branch, Mark is assigned to be the head of the newly formed Space Force — a branch which he makes fun of early on.

The urgency of why Space Force is built in the first place remains questionable— and even unnecessary, until the end, but it’s clear from the get-go that the POTUS wants Mark to have “boots on the moon” by 2024 before Russia and China do it first. Problem is, Mark isn’t exactly equipped to lead the Space Force. And no, it’s not because he’s dumb. He’s far from it. In fact, Mark is the kind of person who always tries his best in every occasion. But it’s more because he simply doesn’t listen to the experts who clearly know about space more than Mark does. To make things even worse, Mark decides to accelerate the launch just to impress the POTUS —an idea that the head scientist, Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), is against.

Netflix

Throughout the season, this clashed idealism between Mark and Dr. Mallory is where Space Force gets most of its juicy drama. Mark is overestimating his ability just because he’s a formidable figure from the military world. Meanwhile, Dr. Mallory keeps underestimating Mark because of one mistake that he did in the past. But the show never once feels like it wants to take sides. In fact, both Mark and Dr. Mallory are depicted as equally flawed characters, though it doesn’t erase the fact that most of the catastrophes that happen throughout ten episodes are because of Mark’s hell-bent tendency to not listen to what Dr. Mallory is saying.

Space Force is at its best when it explores the dire consequences of Mark’s actions and how his arrogant white alpha male persona becomes the very reason the branch ends up being pretty disastrous. Some part of the show even mirrors the reality that we’re dealing with right now where certain leaders keep pushing their countries to the edge of extinction because they refuse to believe the experts in a critical time. But unfortunately, instead of delving deeper into the reality it wants to satirise in the first place— like what Armando Iannucci has been doing for the better part of his career— Space Force chooses to reduce its story into teachable moments where every problem has a solution, and no action is really that dangerous. Of course, there’s no harm in having moral values, especially when it’s about how important cooperation and trust are. But when a show props itself as a satire first and foremost, then derails into something more hopeful, the message it wants to deliver ends up being artificial. And that is the main problem with Space Force. The show chooses to simplify every issue it brings up earlier just so we can feel good about ourselves while watching it. And as a result, what could’ve been a great satire comedy about poor leadership devolves into something much more juvenile.

Netflix

Still, even when Space Force gets pretty shallow, it remains watchable because of all the cast that brings their A-game in every scene. Carell is unsurprisingly great at breathing life into the tightly wounded Mark. The show even gives him a chance to show vulnerability through a subplot involving his family. As Dr. Mallory, Malkovich is also galactically good and hilarious. There’s a scene in the latter episode where his character gets pretty hysterical that will no doubt catapult his chance at getting nominated at this year’s Emmys. The rest of the supporting cast that consists of Ben Schwartz as Mark’s social media manager named F. Tony; the late Fred Willard as Mark’s father; Don Lake as Mark’s pedantic assistant; Kudrow; and Silvers are also equally wonderful. But it is Jimmy O. Yang and Tawny Newsome’s easy chemistry that steals most of the second half of the show. If only the writers provided this talented ensemble good materials to work with, Space Force would no doubt be twice better.

Despite its flaws, however, Space Force is still gonna give you a few good laughs. There’s even a Kokomo needle-drop in the first episode, and a K-pop song in episode eight that will leave you giddy. And given the bleak reality that we’re facing at the moment, that should be enough to help you distract your mind from all the news: just don’t expect too much from it.

Space Force will be available to stream on Netflix from May 29th

by Reyzando Nawara

Reyzando Nawara (he/him) is a passionate film and TV writer based in Indonesia. He’s a big fan of Noah Baumbach, Mia Hansen-Løve, and Alex Ross Perry. When he’s not watching or writing about movies and TV, he likes to spend his day cooking, making sorbet, and taking beautiful photos.

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