I'm just going to come right out and say it: The new Netflix comedy Space Force is a complete and utter disappointment. When you look at the creative minds behind Space Force — Steve Carell reuniting with The Office creator Greg Daniels! — it should be The Right Stuff of space comedies. But despite the names attached and the mountain of cash Netflix threw behind it, it's more of a sleek, high-powered, expensive rocket that tips over and explodes on a school bus full of children before it can even launch.
Carell plays another bad boss as Mark Naird, a newly minted four-star general who is handed the keys to the newest branch of the Armed Forces: Space Force! Like our own real-life bozo president, Space Force's POTUS (who is never named, but from the mentions of his social media use and ego, it's clear who he's modeled after) wants a whole army to be in charge of protecting our satellites so that Twitter never goes down and glory is brought back to the U.S. space program by getting boots on the moon by 2024.
Throughout the season, Naird's efforts lead him to compete against the Air Force, deal with potential spies, cope with incompetence that's both in and out of his control, and find capable bodies to colonize the moon, while also parenting a rebellious daughter (Diana Silvers) and coping with difficulties with his wife (Lisa Kudrow). That set-up has potential, right? We've all been making fun of Space Force ever since it drooled out of the mouth of our real-life Commander in Chief as his stupefying pet project. But Space Force the show has so much trouble making any of its jokes land that it will just make you feel sad about the missed opportunity.
The first thing you'll notice is that Carell and Daniels are trying hard to push Naird as far from Michael Scott, the role that made Carell immortal in comedy, as he can get, while also cramming him into the same mold. Naird, like Scott, is an idiot in way over his head — for example, in one episode he defies the advice of his science advisor (John Malkovich) and attempts to teach a chimp to spacewalk to fix a broken satellite — but he's so rigid that it's hard to find a relatable human being in him. Michael Scott was a buffoon, but he was a lovable buffoon because underneath all that idiocy was a man with a sensitive heart who genuinely cared for the people who worked with him (except Toby, eff that guy). And the voice, oh the voice! Naird sounds like Michael Scott in the middle of a full-body clench, the words shooting out from the back of his throat as though his vocabulary doesn't have clearance to his top-secret diaphragm. It is not comfortable to listen to.
But it might be easier to listen to than most of the jokes. Space Force is inexplicably unfunny, a black hole for laughter, with stretches of bombs lasting minutes, not just because the gags rarely work, but because there aren't that many jokes in the first place. It feels like the first draft of a comedy before the jokes were put in. In several instances, a character singing — usually Naird — is the joke, and not just a joke, THE joke, including an interminable performance of The Beach Boys' "Kokomo" in the first episode. It's not just the jokes that are the problem, either. Everything seems hurried, like the show was knocked out in a weekend. Following a one-year time jump in the first episode, a character close to Naird is put on a completely new arc, with no explanation. It's a mind-boggling oversight.
There are a few bright spots: Ben Schwartz is his usual, wonderful self as the head of Space Force's PR; some of the zanier episodic plots approach being funny (the chimp's spacewalk, which is fully CGI'd above the normal budget of a comedy, was so cruel that I laughed); and the recruited "astronauts" at the end of the season — Chris Gethard and Corporate's Aparna Nancherla — add some life to the crew. But in the vast emptiness of Space Force, these moments barely shine.
In the third episode, Naird sits before a congressional budget hearing and defends Space Force's existence to an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stand-in named Annabelle Ysidro-Campos (Ginger Gonzaga). His testimony is complete and utter hogwash, but it's played as sentimental, patriotic, and triumphant, with a soundtrack of swelling strings and horns.
It's a blatant cover-up of the fact that Naird can't actually make a compelling case for why the Space Force branch of the military should exist at all. But the scene also reads as a flailing (and failing) attempt to justify the existence of Space Force the show.
TV Guide Rating: 1/5
Space Force premieres Friday, May 29 on Netflix.