One could easily argue that Netflix shot themselves in the foot, or at the very least set some pretty misleading expectations, when they first unveiled one of their new flagship comedy series, Space Force. Yes, the series is made, and mostly written, by The Office creator Greg Daniels, and stars Steve Carrell as the central character, but in that very first teaser, as well as in subsequent marketing materials, it prominently featured the text; "From the guys who brought you The Office". So, the same showrunner, the same central star - this has to be some kind of spiritual sequel, right? Well, no, not in the slightest.
So what is Space Force? Well, it is a new comedy show that chronicles the story of the newest branch of the US military, dubbed the "United States Space Force", that was founded as part of the Air Force back in the '40s, but only just recently became an individual branch, as per the wishes of the still very current American president.
The story though is very much a fictional one and focuses on General Mark R. Naird, played by Carrell, who is given the reigns of the Space Force and is tasked with "space dominance", as envisioned by the president, meaning launching new military satellites, as well as reaching the moon, and finally Mars. Around him, we find head scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory played by John Malkovich, pilot Angela Ali played by Tawny Newsome, and social media mogul "F*ck Tony" played by Ben Schwartz. Again - it sounds like a perfect backdrop for a comedic exploration of various archetypes, all in the same episodic vein as The Office, right? Well, still no.
First off, while Space Force uses top-notch acting talent to make each and every character interesting, engrossing and vividly realised, this is a much darker tale than one would traditionally find in The Office. For starters, it's a serial show, with one central narrative arc spanning the entire season, and secondly, it taps into much darker veins of comedy, as one traditionally might find in a Coen Brothers movie, rather than a typical episodic comedy format. Think Barry, After Life, Better Call Saul or even Six Feet Under, and you'd be much closer to what Space Force attempts to be, rather than something new from "the guys that brought you The Office".
So is it any good? Well, yeah. It's competent. As previously stated it's expertly acted, if only a bit split between two distinctive narrative personalities that sometimes struggle to figure out the tonal balance between them. It's beautifully shot, edited and colour graded and therefore it's a more expensive and extensive series compared to some of its peers, and both musically, as well as visually, it's a pretty good showing overall.
But it's the split personality that keeps this from reaching the comedic heights that Daniels and Carrell obviously strive for. The show cannot, even a good way into the 10-episode first season, figure out whether it wants to focus on savvy political commentary through more realistic, believable character development, or achieve its goal through sheer caricature. Carrell's performance as Naird, in particular, seems to change a bit every episode, swinging from multi-facetted parent and patriot to a play on Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket.
That, luckily, doesn't mean that Space Force isn't any good. Because it is. For one, its inherently political satire is mostly spot-on and remains one of the more effective ways for actors to portray the chaos, the indecisiveness and the ultimately unorthodox nature of the current presidential administration. Now if you disagree with that, you might not find the show very entertaining, as it's quite central to its narrative development, but in any case, it's safe to say Space Force is really effective at what it does - when it knows what it wants to do.
Mostly though, this first season is an ambitious, well made, confusing and muddled outing that doesn't stand on its own two feet in quite the same way as some of Netflix's other comedic efforts do, but it does make us excited for the future, and it seems clear that this has been mostly about setting the scene, and here it succeeds. However, you might get too confused, too tired of its flip-flopping, and even annoyed at its indecisiveness, that you don't really care once the final episode of the season is over, and that's a shame.