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'Space Force' comedy from Netflix doesn’t quite complete its mission

The streaming series, starring Steve Carell and John Malkovich, premiered its 10-episode first season on May 29.

Courtesy of Netflix

Created by Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, Netflix’s “Space Force” has all the makings to be a stellar series. With a good creative team, a talented crew, and a slew of reputable actors with impressive comedic chops, the show’s first season seemed poised to be a big hit. But what viewers got when the 10-episode first season premiered on May 29 was a sometimes-brilliant comedy which suffers from pacing issues, inconsistent tone and underdeveloped characters.

Most of the show’s bright spots center around its two main characters. Carell, who portrays General Mark Naird, Space Force’s chief of space operations, has excellent chemistry with his top scientist, Dr. Adrian Mallory, played by John Malkovich. The two offer a yin and yang effect and play well off of each other, but outside of their bond many of the show’s jokes don’t land and much of the rest seems underdeveloped, particularly late in the season. Some of that inconsistency and lack of humor can be credited to the series leaning into its development as more of a standard workplace comedy instead of embracing the satire opportunities the show’s premise offers.

The series acknowledges the current political climate but doesn’t go as far as directly addressing it. President Trump occupies the White House in “Space Force,” though his name is never said. The president scares people, including Naird, with what he types, and he’s always called POTUS, and First Lady Melania Trump is simply referred to as FLOTUS, even when she’s offering redesigns for Space Force uniforms. Members of Congress in the series are caricatures of real-life politicians in office, with Ginger Gonzaga’s Representative Anabela Ysidro-Campos, or AYC, a terrific reimagining of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

With most episodes being 30 to 35 minutes in length, “Space Force” has a cast that’s seemingly as gigantic as a rocket taking off from a launch pad. Principal cast members include Tawny Newsome (“Bajillion Dollar Properties$”) as Captain Angela Ali, and Ben Schwartz (“Sonic the Hedgehog”), as Space Force’s social media director, F. Tony Scarapiducci. Diana Silvers, of recent “Booksmart” fame, rounds out the main cast as Erin Naird, the general’s angsty teenage daughter.

While the principal cast isn’t very large, a lot is asked of the series’ gigantic recurring cast of characters, particularly Dr. Chan Kaifang, Dr. Mallory’s No. 2, played by Jimmy O. Yang. Jessica St. Clair is Kelly King, a contractor who seems meant to be a key figure in the series, though her character is woefully underdeveloped in the first season. Fred Naird, the general’s father, is portrayed by the late Fred Willard, and Lisa Kudrow from “Friends” is Maggie Naird, the general’s wife. She spends most of the first season serving a long-term prison sentence but she tends to be present for some key moments.

The hook for the series works splendidly. In the first episode, Naird is a recently promoted four-star general who transitions from the Air Force to Space Force, and he’s often at odds with other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly General Kick Grabaston, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, played by Noah Emmerich. Naird initially assumes he’s meant to take command of the Air Force with his promotion, and instead finds himself banished to Wild Horse, Colorado, to take over a new base and branch of the military. Generals Naird and Grabaston are constantly at odds throughout the series, whether its on Capitol Hill going over fiscal budgets, or while playing war games, and it usually translates to good fun when the two meet.

Other joint chiefs play less-developed roles, which is a shame since the group consists of Jane Lynch (Navy), Diedrich Bader (Army), Patrick Warburton (Marines) and Larry Joe Campbell (Coast Guard). Brigadier General Bradley Gregory, Naird’s adjutant, is another one-dimensional military character who could use some refinement.

Courtesy of Netflix

As brilliant as its premise is, “Space Force” stumbles in the second episode before regaining its footing. In episodes three through six, the series, which is produced by Daniels' Deedle-Dee Productions, finds its stride and digs into select character development, which subsequently leads to better pacing. It’s not a balanced approach, and many cast members still don’t get an opportunity to shine, but at least viewers can find the through-line and be grounded at the Wild Horse base with its characters. The program’s top-notch production value helps achieve this.

The final two episodes of the season, however, go off the rails and slam into a brick wall. All the humor is sucked out of the series as soon as spacemen are sent on a mission to the Moon, and it goes from bad to worse as tensions escalate. The show’s pacing spins out of control to the point viewers lose any sense of being grounded, and there’s no sense of conclusion as episode 10 ends on a series of cliffhangers.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that “Space Force” will almost certainly be renewed for a second season and it’s bound to improve. Daniels, who co-created “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” is known for developing comedies that tend to have some hiccups early but he’s also respected for taking feedback and making significant improvements in subsequent seasons. There were plenty of complaints about “The Office” during its early tenure, but those early blemishes don’t keep audiences today from viewing the show as a classic sitcom. Early episodes of “Parks and Recreation” followed a similar trajectory.



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