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It started with a fantastically scathing review of a new TV comedy series.
Phrases like “devoid of humour” and “intergalactic misfire” were used. The word “flat” appeared twice.
It ended with audiences (and Netflix) having the last laugh.
‘A dull dirge of a comedy’
Space Force is a 10-part series starring Steve Carell as a decorated general tapped to lead a newly formed sixth branch of the US Armed Forces.
It’s a thinly veiled satire of the Trump administration, complete with references to tweeting, and follows the exploits of a motley crew trying to put “boots on the moon” again and create total space dominance.
It co-stars screen luminaries John Malkovich and Lisa Kudrow and was created by Carell and Greg Daniels (the pair previously worked together on the US version of The Office).
And yet, it became the fodder for the harshest review of 2020 by News Breakfast’s resident film critic, Zak Hepburn:
This is like a dull dirge of a comedy series.
It desperately wants to be on the heights of the satirical comedy The Thick Of It, that incredible British TV show, but unfortunately it has no wit, no insight.
The major frustration I had watching these episodes is it’s so convinced of its own comedic intelligence, but it is almost as if someone wrote down the joke of the series on a napkin in the bar but forgot to add the punchline.
It goes absolutely nowhere. It’s just a series of riffs and a series of in-jokes that land completely and utterly flat.
The cast does include a fantastic performance from John Malkovich, but I’m convinced he thinks he is in a different series altogether. Steve Carell falls really flat. Lisa Kudrow is completely wasted.
There could have been a really interesting and subversive take on political mismanagement and the overblown nature of some military departments.
I can only hope if there is another SpaceX launch, that they put every copy of this show on that to get every trace of this series off the planet. It is a complete and utter dud.
Well, it’s fair to say many fans didn’t see it that way.
Almost immediately the counter-reviews came in on email and social media.
Unlike most reviews that come out before a TV show or film premieres, in this case Space Force had dropped a few days earlier.
And while there was a smattering of support for the review, Mr Hepburn, it was largely agreed, didn’t know what he was on about.
I loved this show. Laughed all the way through — Rachel
Comedy is very personal. It is not fair to try and compare it with the old British comedies. Political correctness has killed that type of comedy and only the British could pull it off — Richard
I found it strangely compelling. The occasional sub-texts pointing at the really strange people in the US are worth the wait — Michael
I think part of the problem is people go into it thinking it’s going to be a laugh-a-minute thing like a lot of stuff Steve Carell has done … Once I let go of the idea of it being a riotous comedy I enjoyed it for the drama and subtle satire — Anonymous
Are critics getting too nitpicky because there’s so much great television? Prediction this will be one of those shows the critics pan and the public love — Lisa
Lisa’s prediction of a critic-audience divide has proven spot on.
Is Carell funny in Space Force? It depends who you ask.(Supplied: Netflix)
Critics and fans often disagree
On film site Rotten Tomatoes, Space Force has a rating of 77 per cent from the audience, compared to an average of just 40 per cent among critics.
It’s far from the first time the critics have been out of step with the punters, but it’s a divide that is garnering a lot of scrutiny in recent years.
The Hugh Jackman musical extravaganza, The Greatest Showman, was a standout recent example.
It has an 86 per cent rating from viewers versus just 56 per cent from critics.
Audiences loved Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman.(Supplied)
Such was the backlash to its critical review, the New York Times penned a follow-up article pleading with fans to explain why the paper had seemingly got it so wrong.
The pendulum can also swing the other way, with critics lauding a film the audience thought was solidly average.
|Audience score (%)
|Critic score (%)
|Star Wars: The Last Jedi
|The Blair Witch Project
|Charlie And The Chocolate Factory (2005)
Source: Rotten Tomatoes
Venom was yet another comic book flick to delight fans but not critics.
As for Netflix, the debate over whether Space Force is good or not probably doesn’t matter.
Streaming services don’t need masses of people to head to the cinema for a show or film to be commercially success.
It can be enough to strike a chord among a niche audience — if that then leads to new long-term subscribers.
And while Netflix is notoriously private about viewing figures for individual shows, Space Force has sat high on the daily top-trending list for Australia since it launched.
So despite Mr Hepburn’s review, it seems there is still plenty to smile about.