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(CNN)Reuniting Steve Carell and “The Office” producer Greg Daniels, “Space Force” carries such an impressive payload — from the star-heavy cast to the concept — it’s a shame the actual show isn’t better. As is, this too-broad parody has sporadic moments but consistently feels like it’s trying way too hard to achieve liftoff, like an “Airplane!” movie gone wrong.
Clearly designed to spoof President Trump’s pet military project (the references to “POTUS” are non-specific, but pointed), the series casts Carell as Mark Naird, a four-star general reluctantly plucked from his position at the Air Force and placed atop this odd new sixth branch of the military.
The bureaucratic politics are plentiful, including sniping and sharp elbows from the other armed services (except for the Coast Guard, which the others repeatedly ridicule). The worst of that comes from Naird’s longtime rival Gen. Kick Grabaston (“The Americans'” Noah Emmerich), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A starched military man, Naird regularly clashes with his chief scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich, doing what feels like an impersonation of John Malkovich), an eccentric voice of reason amid all the insanity. That chaos extends to Naird’s personal life, forced to be apart from his wife (Lisa Kudrow, like a lot of the talent here, underutilized) while dealing with a grown daughter (Diana Silvers) who has pretty tired issues of her own.
The main problem with “Space Force” is that it’s so intent on approaching everything with an exaggerated arched eyebrow there’s scant substance upon which to hang one’s helmet. In that regard, it bears a considerable resemblance to “Avenue 5,” HBO’s star-spanning satire about a cruise ship in space, which exhibits many of the same over-the-top, too-cute-for-its-own good excesses.
As talented as he is, the cartoonish character neutralizes Carell’s comedic gifts. The show’s fleeting charms thus stem largely from the supporting players, and the series is cast to the hilt, with the late Fred Willard as Naird’s dad, and Jane Lynch and Patrick Warburton as other military chiefs, just for starters.
The latter’s crude banter accounts for much of the best stuff in the show, which is a thin recommendation. And while there are some clever moments — see an astronaut’s attempt to coin a moon landing phrase that goes awry — they’re too widely spaced out, pardon the expression, over the 10 episodes.
Beyond the challenge of meeting the administration’s lofty goals for Space Force, Naird faces international complications, although it’s painfully clear that the US government is, in this show, its own worst enemy.
On paper, “Space Force” would seem to have a whole lot of factors working in its favor, from its talent manifest to the real-life parallels. Yet somewhere between the drawing board and its Netflix launch, it became its own worst enemy too.
“Space Force” premieres May 29 on Netflix.