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Carell leads Space Force as Mark Naird, a four-star general given the unenviable task of turning the Space Force into a reality. Starting a new branch of the military from the ground up could have been an exciting jumping off point, but as soon as General Naird is given his assignment in the pilot’s opening minutes, a time-jump shows the fully operational Space Force on the day of their first big rocket launch. Naird is eager to impress his superiors and snickering Air Force colleagues, which leads him to ignore sage advice from his exasperated chief scientist Adrian Mallory (Malkovich). Their dynamic, Naird’s hard-nose determination versus Mallory’s scientific practicality, drives the show, and both actors give committed performances, it’s just that the pair don’t elicit many laughs.
Greg Daniels’ other new 2020 show for Amazon, Upload, featured a similar problem. The show had a great premise, a game cast, and a well-realized, in-show universe, it just wasn’t very funny. Part of the problem is the show’s tone, which never really commits to being a farce or satire, stays too grounded, and frequently indulges earnest moments celebrating American exceptionalism, which creates a feeling of whiplash. There’s a moment in the pilot in which the late Fred Willard, playing Carell’s senile father, delivers a laugh out loud phone call detailing his enjoyment of crawling under his own home and Carell reacts with over-the-top horror. This sort of zany, 30 Rock-esque tone would have been perfect for a show that sounded as silly as Space Force, but things are played too straight.
The show also pulls its punches when it comes to its inspiration. Trump is never mentioned by name, and any jokes at his expense are complete softballs. Bizarrely, the series directs more venom toward Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. More disappointing is the waste of Space Force’s supporting characters, who aren’t given much to do until the halfway point of the season and still don’t make much of an impression, save for a much-needed laugh here and there. At one point one character says to another “Nice talking to you for the second time in my life” and that really sums up a lot of the character interactions that don’t involve Naird. A lot of screen time is devoted to Naird’s daughter Erin (Booksmart’s Diana Silvers) trying to get more attention from her father, but both characters are honestly a bit unlikable, so the emotional element never quite lands.