Star wars and geopolitics: Netflix comedy series ‘SPACE FORCE’ undocks from the possibility to matter

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Preston Barta // Film Critic

SPACE FORCE

TV-MA, about 322 minutes.
Creators: Steve Carell and Greg Daniels
Cast: Steve Carell, John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome, Noah Emmerich, Jimmy O. Yang, Lisa Kudrow and Fred Willard

Whether you support President Trump or not, his personality and actions invite satire. When he unveiled the official logo for Space Force, a multi-billion dollar branch of the U.S. military, the internet was quick to poke fun and draw connections to Star Trek’s Starfleet insignia. 

Now, comedy television titans Greg Daniels and Steve Carell reunite after The Office to base an entire series on this notion. Given the talent involved (including John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz and the late Fred Willard), the new Netflix show, naturally titled Space Force, has all the caliber needed to set phasers to stun. However, too few stars align to launch an enterprise worth the trek. 

In the 10-episode debut season, Carell plays Mark Naird, a four-star general doing his best to churn the titular military branch into a flying example of success. No one seems to want to be a part of it or know what they’re doing. (Not far off from The Office in that regard.) Thankfully, Malkovich’s scene-stealing advisor character, Dr. Adrian Mallory, is present to keep tabs on the situation and help steer the virtual ship in the right direction – even if he’s a bit exhausted by the whole idea. (Malkovich is 100 percent the sole reason to check this series out, if at all still curious.) 

John Malkovich is the scene-stealing Dr. Adrian Mallory in ‘SPACE FORCE.’ Courtesy of Netflix.

The plan for Space Force to etch its way into the history books isn’t the only mission. Naird has an imprisoned wife (an underused Lisa Kudrow) and a teenage daughter (Booksmart’s Diana Silvers) whom he gives little attention to these days. As vital as it is to be emotionally involved with the characters, the subplots short circuit the tone and fail to develop the dynamics among the roles. We are left scratching our heads over Naird’s wife’s incarceration. We also get throwaway gags like Naird forgetting to take his daughter home. These are some of the few moments that could have been a major point of contention in their relationships. Instead, too much is a half-thought. 

As much as the story let’s Houston know we have a problem, there are a few series of quips that produce solid laughs. The prime ones being a sequence involving a monkey and a dog repairing a satellite and the majority of episode six (which is the kind of genuine comedy the entire series should have been). 

A lot of issue can be taken with the treatment of Carell’s character, who shares a lot in common with The Office’s Michael Scott during its first run. It wasn’t until season two that the creative team found their footing by graduating a defiantly ignorant leader into a lovable goofball of a boss. So, if a second season happens for Space Force, there’s a chance Carell and Co. could correct the course. Here’s to hoping that they do, because there’s a goldmine of opportunity. (I suggest doubling down on Malkovich’s character.)

Grade: C+

SPACE FORCE releases Friday on Netflix.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.