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The Fault of 'Space Force,' Dear Viewers, is not in the Stars
May 29, 2020  | By David Hinckley

The cast outshines the story in Space Force, a new Netflix comedy that launches on Friday.

Space Force, whose ten episodes were wrapped before the virus shut down television production, stars Steve Carell (top) as Mark Naird, a four-star general put in charge of the newly created sixth branch of the U.S. military, Space Force.

Space Force, the military entity, is charged with resuming manned flights to the moon by 2024. As Carell’s Naird explains in a less than impressive speech to a local high school, the last moon missions were for exploration. This one is to “occupy! Boots on the moon! Boots with U.S. feet in them!”

Space-rooted comedies aren’t new turf for television or the movies, as The Orville recently reminded us, and Space Force comes in with a strong lineup.

Besides Carell, John Malkovich plays Dr. Adrian Mallory, General Naird’s civilian advisor. Ben Schwartz plays F. Tony Scarapidduci, social media advisor to Space Force. Those three form the comic axis, with considerable help from recurring players like Lisa Kudrow as Naird’s wife, Maggie, and the late Fred Willard as his father, Fred. The series is dedicated to Willard, who died May 15.

You win no prizes, by the way, for guessing which real-life personality Scarapidduci was named after, and Space Force keeps a strong element of contemporary political satire running throughout the show.

That starts with Naird himself, who often comes across as a petulant windbag who knows far less than he thinks he knows but has the authority to order people to follow his screwy ideas anyhow.

He disdains actual experts when they contradict him, and he’s prone to blurting out whatever petty personal grievances flit across his mind at any given moment. Mercurial would be a polite way to describe him.

Yet he is also shown with a caring and tender side, particularly toward his daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers), who is in high school and faces a couple of serious obstacles in her life. Besides being a teenager.

One is that Naird’s promotion to Space Force meant the family had to move to Wild Horse, Colorado, where the secret project is being developed and which is, naturally, in the middle of nowhere.

The other is that a year after they moved there, Maggie Laird is in prison for what she describes as “a very long time.” This makes it easy for the producers of Space Force to use Kudrow sparingly, but it does leave viewers with the question of how Maggie got there. All we know is that when Naird first told her they were moving, she burst into tears.

Comedies can get away with that sort of zany loose end. The more significant problem for Space Force lies more in the sense that none of the pieces of its comic montage feel terribly original – not the out-of-touch boss part or the warm-and-tender home part or the political part that seems to weave in and out.

It feels like a decent story, but not a story that’s especially compelling, even when it tucks in little subplots like the hint of a friendship between Naird and his helicopter pilot, Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome).

To its credit, Space Force does unfold as a story, not a series of setups for jokes. The main characters seem to come in more than two dimensions, and watching Malkovich create a new version of Dr. Strangelove is quite charming.

A steady stream of incidental gags also produces some winners. A brief scene with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for instance, has one of the joint chiefs played by the guy from the National Car Rental ads, who probably hates being referred to as the guy from the National Car Rental ads.

Space Force gets off the ground and into orbit. You just wish it twinkled a little brighter in the galaxy.

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