In the UK: Available on Netflix
It’s one of the clichés of modern times that the Trump presidency is beyond satire – it’s so inherently ridiculous that nothing satirists can do can possibly trump Trump.
That’s not quite true. Plenty of shows mock Trump every day and we’ve had the likes of the self-explanatory Our Cartoon President (US: Showtime) built entirely around sending him up. The Good Fight (US: CBS All Access; UK: More 4) has also done a decent job of mocking Trump’s input into the US’s legal and political systems:
However, most of the mockery is largely targeted at the man himself. His policies, meanwhile, are normally so horrifying that no one can think of anything funny to say in response. Maybe in that sense Trump might be beyond satire.
So you’ve got to hand it to Netflix’s new comedy, Space Force, for at least trying to satirise an actual policy position of Donald Trump – namely Space Force, for those of us who have been avoiding the news as much as possible. The question is: is this first real stab at Trumpian policy satire good or even funny?
A space force to be reckoned with?
Co-created by and starring Steve Carrell (The Office (US), Anchorman, The Daily Show, The Morning Show), Space Force sees Carrell playing a newly promoted 4* Air Force general at the height of his game. His predecessor and general bête noire Noah Emmerich (The Americans, The Spy) is about to retire and Carrell is set to replace him.
However, almost immediately, Carrell learns he is instead set to head up and largely create from scratch Trump’s Space Force, with the perpetual aim of ‘boots on the Moon by 2024’! That means moving to Colorado, something about which his wife, Lisa Kudrow (Friends), and teenage daughter (Diana Silvers) are not 100% jubilant.
Soon, Carrell is butting heads not just with chief scientist John Malkovich but with science itself, as he learns that reality has a liberal bias.
Given that Carrell’s co-creator of Space Force is Greg Daniels, who was also the creator/adaptor of The Office (US), you won’t be too surprised to hear that Space Force is as much a workplace comedy as it is a send-up of Space Force. It’s just a workplace that happens to aimlessly send $6 billion rockets up into space and has to deal with a First Lady who wants to design its uniforms.
It’s also maybe not too surprising that like The Office (US), Space Force isn’t actually that funny. There are definitely plenty of gags but much of them are predictable. Carrell’s family takes up far too much of the show’s runtime, despite the fact Kudrow is largely cameoing as her character is basically that episode of Friends in which Phoebe talks about prison.
It doesn’t help that Carrell’s character and performance veers between Foxcatcher (2014) and Anchorman (2004). Sometimes, he’s incredibly subtle, in a well researched military role, playing a former F14 pilot who’s survived behind enemy lines and knows full well what an absolute pup Space Force is. At other times, he makes Trump look the height of subtlety and intellectualism, barking out idiocies and trying to persuade monkeys to space walk so they can weld solar panels.
Matters military are better handled, particularly Carrell’s frequent meetings with his opposite numbers in the other services: Emmerich, Jane Lynch (Glee) and Patrick Warburton (Rules of Engagement, The Tick). Here, the rivalries are handled well and points often land. There’s clearly also been a large amount of research done and Space Force feels as much of a genuine military comedy as it does a workplace comedy.
However, the show’s saving grace is Malkovich, who handles the comedy deftly and also benefits from a considerable amount of real science informing the jokes. His and Carrell’s interplay really works and that and Emmerich will probably be the reasons why I keep on watching Space Force.
When Space Force is a satire, it is pretty decent. Each episode’s plots are also solid and offer variety, with trips to prototype moonbases and Washington all presenting new opportunities for jokes.
However, as a workplace and a family comedy, it falls short, and it’s these scenes that drag down the rest of the show.
Try to ignore that and Carrell’s variable performance and you should find Space Force a promising watch.