An uneven start but eventually elevates to an enjoyable comedy.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
The idea of Space Force, let alone the name, is fodder for comedy. Created by Steve Carell and Greg Daniels (the maven behind The Office and Parks and Recreation), the show take its cue from the real-life military branch that Donald Trump enacted. It's a dumb concept but one that Carell's character is trying to turn into a success.
Comedy is often mined from conflict so, of course, there are obstacles in getting "boots on the moon". Mark is getting grief in trying to repair his fractured family and carrying out his duties issued by the Secretary of Defense (DanBakkedahl). Then, you have conflict from within his ranks: two opposing characters—General Mark Naird, a man who is familiar with war and Dr Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), Space Force's chief scientist, who is opposed to the militarisation of space. It's the classic odd couple trope and the chemistry between the two men works to its benefit.
But this isn't the Carell-and-Malkovich vehicle, this show works because it is an ensemble. People like Space Force's social media director, F Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz), Dr Chan (Jimmy O Yang) and Captain Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome) all bring a lot of heart that revitalises the rapport with one another.
But the real MVP is John Malkovich. He doesn't have a comedy background but what makes his character hilarious is that Malkovich delivering his lines without attempting to be funny. I keeled over when Malkovich drunk-murmurs about the slight given by a fellow scientist from China. And Malkovich brings so much to the good doctor—from the outfits to the mannerism—that I can't think of anybody else who can own this.
American exceptionalism is also put under the microscope. The brashness and blind loyalty to all things "U-S-A! U-S-A!" is pilloried but the other positive aspects of it—idealism, hope—those are given time to shine. The generalissimos (played by some of comedy's greats like Jane Lynch and Patrick Warburton) often discuss the next move for Space Force and their drive can sometimes make them be so far removed from reality (the first instinct towards China running over the iconic American flag that was planted in the first moon landing, is to bomb them).
What we didn't like
The pilot for Space Force flounders a bit as though it is trying to foster its own identity while the ghosts of The Office and Parks and Recreation wait in the wings. The first episode fumbled with the characterisation and a thin plot but it gets better in the second episode; a pity if you're the sort of person, who decides whether to watch the rest of the season based on the pilot. (Strangely, The Office and Parks and Recreation, both Greg Daniels' projects, suffered similar fates, only to come into its own in the second season.)
The rest of the season isn't perfect either; certain storylines lack closure or make little sense. There's a notable example: Fred Willard, who plays Mark's father, appeared in three episodes. While Willard passed away in May this year, it seemed unusual that after those appearances, nothing more was considered of him.
What to look out for
There are call-back to jokes set up in previous episodes. Also, Mark's wife, Maggie, who is played by Lisa Kudrow is in prison for a 40-year sentencing. The show never specifies the nature of her crime. Maybe we'll find out next season…
Oh, and did we mention John Malkovich's performance as Dr Mallory? Look out for every instance that he swears or when he sweetly sings to the tune of "What a Wonderful World".
Space Force is out now on Netflix.