It must be truly difficult to write satire in this day and age.
Two leaders of Western democracy are shameless idiots beyond parodying, income inequality is spiralling out of control and nobody seems to care, billionaires smoke weed on podcasts, and the world's first trillionaire is on the horizon. We are living in a time that one would assume is ripe for satire, but so far, the efforts have been lacklustre at best.
Maybe it's that we need distance to process and make fun of it, but the fact is that shows like 'Space Force' represent an inability for even the most talented of names to find a way to alchemise comedy from all this shit. From the outset, you can see why Steve Carrell and 'The US Office' showrunner Greg Daniels decided to take on something like 'Space Force'.
It is, at the heart of it, a workplace comedy and that's familiar, comfortable territory for both of them. Carrell plays General Mark R. Naird like a puffed-up, military-issue Michael Scott - complete with earnest love for his workmates and an inability to recognise the error of his ways until it's too late. Paired with Carrell is John Malkovich, a droll and urbane scientist who seems perfectly happy to work with the military-industrial complex so long as he can make glib remarks every so often.
Ben Schwartz, who people will recognise from 'Parks and Recreation' as Jean-Ralphio, is playing effectively the same character here, while 'The Americans' alum Noah Emmerich plays Carrell's on-screen nemesis, General Kick Grabaston of the US Air Force. Peppered around the show are familiar faces, such as Jane Lynch, Lisa Kudrow, Diedrich Bader, Patrick Warburton and the sadly departed Fred Willard. Meanwhile, the writing staff includes names like Brent Forrester (who worked on 'The Simpsons' when it was good), 'Paddington' director Paul King, and even Carrell and Daniels are credited writers on the opening episode.
Yet, for this embarrassment of riches in talent, the clear amount of money spent on the show from production design, 'Space Force' never once manages to get any kind of momentum going. In fact, it almost seems to be positioning itself as an examination of a kind of well-meaning but misguided adventure comedy. General Naird, for all his gruffness, is just a guy struggling to get by. That he's serving the whims of an idiotic despot, militarising space, firing billions of money down the drain, shouldn't get in the way of you liking him, right? You should feel pity for them.
It's hard to do that, however, when the show becomes so achingly inept as to try and "both sides" the whole thing in a later episode that sees a thinly-veiled pastiche of Democrat politicians like Nancy Pelosi and AOC rightfully question how Space Force can justify its spending when there are people on food stamps. Sure, we can all recognise - in real life, anyway - that the US Space Force is a farce, Donald Trump is a joke of a president, and the US is rapidly disintegrating before our very eyes.
It's all a farce, so make a farcical comedy about it. The logic is sound, but the execution in 'Space Force' is so tepid, so good-natured, so clearly trying to straddle the line and make itself appear as though it's making fun of everything that it ends up making fun of nothing. The jokes, such as they are, end up tiresome and flat. The performances feel curiously mannered. The episodes become beige and interchangeable, and you're ultimately left with a comedy that isn't funny, a real-life premise that nobody's really laughing at, and the same question posed to the real Space Force as to the TV show version - who actually wants this?