Space Force review: Steve Carell’s Netflix show dedicates episode to India’s achievements, but that might not be enough
Creators - Greg Daniels, Steve Carell
Cast - Steve Carell, John Malkovich, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome, Ben Schwartz
Netflix’s Space Force seems to be suffering from the same ailment that troubled the later seasons of HBO’s Veep: how does a political satire stay sharp in an age when the actual government keeps satirising itself?
Take, for instance, the notion of having a Space Force. Sounds straight out of Star Trek, doesn’t it? But in 2019, the Space Force was designated as an independent branch of the US Armed Forces. And its logo, as the justifiably miffed actor George Takei pointed out, honestly does look straight out of Star Trek.
Watch the Space Force trailer here
Co-created by The Office legends Greg Daniels and Steve Carell, Space Force exists in a reality that feels a lot like our own. Several references are made about an inept President who has a tendency to tweet before he thinks, and supporting characters are thinly veiled versions of real people such as the former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
While each of these characters is shown to have some redeeming qualities, I found the portrayal of the AOC stand-in to be strangely mean-spirited. Even the technocrat meant to mock Elon Musk has been turned into a woman. Whether or not this is a worrying sign of the show’s problematic gender politics remains to be seen.
In many ways, Space Force is also a workplace sitcom, much like The Office. But even though the stakes have been inflated to intergalactic proportions, the characters’ ineptitude remains the same. Carell plays Space Force chief Mark Naird like an older and significantly more gruff version of Michael Scott, retaining some of some of those old ticks and mannerisms. At this point, though, I feel certain expressions may be more of a Steve Carell thing than a Michael Scott thing.
Such is the degree to which Daniels and Carell follow the Office playbook that certain episodes can essentially be classified as remakes. One, in which the Space Force participates in games with other departments of the US Armed Forces, will remind fans of season two’s Office Olympics, or of the basketball game with the warehouse guys from season one, or of the office picnic in season five.
The interdepartmental rivalry between Naird’s Space Force, and older departments such as the Air Force and Army is a lot like the tussle that Michael Scott’s Scranton branch of the Dunder Mifflin paper company was engaged in with against the Stamford or Utica branches in The Office.
The larger point that Daniels and Carell are trying to make here, I would assume, is that humans are capable of pettiness regardless of the power they have. While Michael Scott was in no manner an influential person -- at least not professionally -- Mark Naird is partially responsible for his nation’s security. But that doesn’t stop him from deputizing a chimpanzee to perform a complicated space operation in episode two, perhaps the only time that Space Force truly embraces the inherent ridiculousness of its premise.
But for the majority of its 10-episode first season, Space Force doesn’t appear to be prepping for launch with as much intensity as it should have. Instead, it seems to be calculating the flight path and making sure that the weather is all right. In other words, it’s still early days in Daniels and Carell’s mission to make their mark on streaming. I fear that even an episode almost entirely dedicated to India’s achievements in the space race -- an episode that dares to make the potentially prickly suggestion that Prime Minister Narendra Modi could spy on the US -- might not be enough of an incentive for desi audiences to tune in.