The second season of “Space Force” is better than the first, but that does not mean much
When the Netflix comedy ‘Space Force’ first aired in May 2020, everyone was in quarantine, Donald Trump was still oversharing on Twitter and SNL maintained a quick turnaround to convert its tweets into cold open material. Witnessing the sheer calamity of the Trump administration was like watching a badly written soap opera: every storyline coming out of left field and each one somehow more ridiculous than the last. “Space Force” sought to tap into that comedic reservoir while it lasted. Yet for a show written by the absurdity of our reality, there was little thought beyond the premise of the pilot and what would happen once those two paths diverged.
“Space Force” follows General Mark Naird (Steve Carell, “The Office”), leader of the new branch of the US military, as he navigates interactions with politicians, generals and cutting-edge scientists aerospace research and the media in general.
Like all of Trump’s most memorable tweets — half-baked and sorely lacking in substance — I can’t help but wonder if the series would have been better left in the drafts. Repetitive nods to an anonymous Twitter from POTUS, an “angry young congresswoman” and social media manager F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz, “Parks and Recreation”) (yeah, that Is sound a lot like Antoine Scaramucci) ricochet off stale jokes that are far too reminiscent of 2016 humor to pack a real punch. Despite having Greg Daniels (“The Office”) and Carell at the helm, as well as a multi-million dollar budget and a star-studded cast, “Space Force” felt doomed from its inception.
Unwelcome by critics and popular audiences, its initial release made no sound, which is perhaps a blessing in disguise given the scale of the disaster (I can count on the one hand the number of times I laughed audibly and I still can’t figure out how it got renewed). Unsurprisingly, the second season attempted to implement major tonal shifts in the show’s focus. Overall, “Space Force” scaled back its ambitions and resulted in a relatively mediocre workplace comedy. After the dumpster fire that was season one, there was nowhere to go but up.
The first season was far too preoccupied with making fun of the ridicule of people with immense power and very little understanding of what to do with it. Naird’s distrust of science forces him to frequently ignore scientists’ advice and play the fate of a satellite recovery mission on a monkey, Scarapiducci brokers a deal to have their spacecraft use “Skinny Fuel dew-colored and FLOTUS designs a haute couture clothing line for their official uniforms. Besides being zany, this form of comedy lost its appeal as soon as Trump left office. Frankly, no one wants any more jokes about tweet typos or the absurdity of America’s scary annual military budget. over $700 billion.
At just seven episodes, the second season suffered literal and figurative “budget cuts”. It lost some of its outdated content, with far fewer Trump references and only a handful of racist jokes directed at Chan (Jimmy O’Yang, “Love Hard”), but there were still too many conspiracies. of Russian/China military propaganda for my liking.
With less reliance on Carell’s star power, the weight of the show is evenly distributed among the group dynamics. It’s less Naird juggling stage interactions with a group of minor characters and more a collective crew led by him. Ensemble scenes play to their advantage with the sporadic outbursts of Dr. Mallory (John Malkovich, “The New Pope”) or the teenage misfortunes of Erin (Diana Silvers, “Booksmart”), but remain rare.
The scenic scope has also shifted from a large military base to an ordinary workplace, a setting that co-creator Daniels is familiar with. There’s a reason “Parks and Recreation” takes place at local governmental level or “The Office” at the level regional branch of a paper company. Daniels himself has proven time and again that the mundane work environment meshes well with the familiar monotony of the sitcom realm, something the show could still embrace more. Placing characters in high-stakes situations with a legitimate air of gravity and responsibility to their roles tends to stifle the comedic capacity offered by the writing.
To put it simply, “Space Force” always tries too hard and not in a serious way, but in a way “sucking the air out of the room with every attempt at a joke”. Because despite season two being leaps and bounds better than season one, it’s still just as underwhelming. “Space Force” is a bit like the “Skinny Fuel” it tries so desperately to poke fun at: it quickly burns through the immensely talented cast and budget at its disposal only to find itself blasting off a few feet above the ground.
The editor-in-chief of the daily Serena Irani can be contacted at [email protected].