Space Force premieres May 29 on Netflix.
By Matthew Stanford
Space Force is a Netflix Original comedy series about the newly created sixth brand of the US military: Space Force. The show was created by Greg Daniels (creator of US version of The Office) and Steve Carrell. Like many, “The Office” holds a special place for me in my TV viewing past. It is widely considered one of the most beloved comedies and that sentiment has only grown over time. It is constantly referenced in pop culture by the likes of Billie Eilish and others. Just last year a pop-punk band released songs that are made entirely of Michael Scott quotes under the name Michael $cott.
Given the creator and star many people will go into viewing this show as “The next Office.” Space Force is nothing like The Office and it is better off for it! If you want to re-watch The Office, go for it, it holds up very well. Space Force is its own animal entirely and it is fantastic. Five minutes into watching the show I was thinking “uh oh” as the first bit of the pilot seem a bit forced and odd tonally. It quickly shifts and this show is legitimately hilarious. Steve Carrell has crafted a character in General Mark Naird that is layered and likable, he even changes his voice up a bit and speaks in a gruffer more military tone.
While I don’t want to spoil any of the set pieces or surprises that the show and dreamed up, know that there is an extended sequence involving a chimpanzee in the 2nd episode that is so riotously funny that I rewound it and watched it 3 times. There are moments like this throughout the series that are unexpected and well-executed.
Space Force has a sprawling cast of characters and most of if not all of the actors are heavy hitters in the world of comedy that you will recognize. Rather than go through each, I would like to highlight four of them as they made the biggest impression on me throughout the season. They are Steve Carrell’s General Mark Naird, Dr. Adrian Mallory played by John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz’s F. Tony, and Don Lake’s Brad Gregory.
Steve Carrell has a deep comedy background as everyone knows but he has flexed his dramatic chops many times as well in roles in Little Miss Sunshine and more recently the underrated The Morning Show on Apple TV. General Naird is a character that leans towards comedy at most times but does have dramatic moments that make him endearing. This guy isn’t an idiot and he isn’t portrayed as one. He is a decorated general that was put in charge of a new branch of the military. This is a huge responsibility. He is torn between his military instincts and the collection of scientists that surround him. The head scientist and the person he shares the most scenes is John Malkovich’s Dr. Adrian Mallory.
Dr. Mallory is very understated, especially for a Malkovich character. It is almost playing against type for him where he is the straight man to Naird’s comedic antic filled energy in most scenes. He is believable as a genius scientist that cares deeply about his work, science, and the environment. One might not expect Malkovich to play a fairly normal person but I think it is more aligned with his actual real-life persona than folks realize. For a period of time in the early 2000s, my sister lived in Massachusetts. One of her good friends lived across the street from John Malkovich and whenever she would visit them, he was outside gardening wearing the full gardening outfit that one wears. I never saw a picture of this beyond description but any photographic evidence couldn’t live up to the picture in my head anyway.
F Tony (yes the F stands for what you think it does) is the Social Media Manager for Space Force. He is a “bro” in every sense of the word. His new world media world view clashes with Naird in that he just doesn’t understand what the point of any of this is. Naird is thinking about the mission and accomplishing the task while F Tony is thinking of what joke tweet will play best with the public. Ben Schwartz character is definitely the most cartoonist in the show, but it really works when he plays off of other characters – especially Naird.
Don Lake plays General Naird’s assistant one-star general Brad Gregory. He is essentially the “Kenneth the page” of Space Force and it is fantastic. He is always smiling, always making questionable good-hearted decisions and he is rarely helpful in the most pleasant way possible. In lesser hands, this role would not be memorable as such a background character but Lake elevates every scene he is in and he is hilarious.
Beyond those mentioned above the entire cast is terrific and there is no weak link. Space Force is a show that could have easily gone for the cheap laughs mocking the current administration or just the existence of Space Force at all, but they smartly approached it as if Space Force was up and running what would they actually be working on. The show does not lean on political agendas beyond slight ribbing so it should not be a turn off no matter what your political views are. There is even a scene where Naird convinced me that we might actually need a Space Force for real, which is a pretty big accomplishment in my eyes.
The stakes in this show are very low. There aren’t any real villains beyond the situations as they present themselves and it is a really enjoyable watch. As I am writing this review the first trailer for the show just dropped and folks’ opinions seem fairly mixed. I do not think this trailer represents the quality of the comedy that this show provides. Almost every episode has one scene that is extremely funny and the rest is enjoyable to watch and spend time with these characters. I was really looking forward to this show and it surpassed my expectations!
I give Space Force an A.