Steve Carell’s Netflix series ‘Space Force’ is better in theory. Kinda like Space Force


Steve Carell in

Steve Carell in “Space Force.” Netflix

Tawny Newsome in “Space Force.”

Tawny Newsome in “Space Force.” Netflix

Don Lake in “Space Force.”

Don Lake in “Space Force.” Netflix

Jimmy O. Yang in “Space Force.”

Jimmy O. Yang in “Space Force.” Netflix

Diana Silvers in “Space Force.”

Diana Silvers in “Space Force.” Netflix

Ben Schwartz in

Ben Schwartz in “Space Force.” Netflix

John Malkovich in

John Malkovich in “Space Force.” Netflix

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  • Steve Carell in 1 of 7
  • Tawny Newsome in “Space Force.”2 of 7
  • Don Lake in “Space Force.”3 of 7
  • Jimmy O. Yang in “Space Force.”4 of 7
  • Diana Silvers in “Space Force.”5 of 7
  • Ben Schwartz in 6 of 7
  • John Malkovich in 7 of 7

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Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic Published 12:00 a.m. MT May 26, 2020 | Updated 3:32 p.m. MT May 27, 2020

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When President Donald Trump announced the creation of the U.S. Space Force in December 2019, the idea was met with no small amount of ridicule.

Another of Trump’s shiny objects, critics claimed, an expensive toy to take people’s minds off of … whatever the scandal was that day. Greg Daniels, a “Simpsons” legend who also ran the American version of “The Office,” and Steve Carell, the star of the latter, among other things, hit upon a brilliant idea: a Netflix comedy series that satirizes Space Force, called, well, “Space Force.”

It arrives on May 29 and remains that — a brilliant idea.

In execution, it’s more muted. It’s funny, but should be funnier. It’s satirical, but not biting enough. You keep waiting for the gasp of laughter, but mostly it’s a collection of chuckles.

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The jokes are here. They’re just not mean enough

Steve Carell in

Steve Carell in “Space Force.” (Photo: Netflix)

Carell plays Gen. Mark Naird, who gets his fourth star in the opening scene and assumes that he will take over command of the U.S. Air Force from his nemesis, Gen. Kirk Grabaston (Noah Emmerich, part of a great cast). Naird’s wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) is excited, because the job comes with a furnished home in a swank neighborhood. His teenage daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) is actually proud of him.

Not for long. Naird learns immediately that he will command Space Force, making him the instant butt of ridicule among the Joint Chiefs of Staff (though not as much as the commander of the Coast Guard, poor devil). Forget pricey D.C. digs. The Nairds are moving to Colorado.

From there the show follows Naird’s efforts to get the program off the ground, figuratively and literally. He’s stymied and helped, depending on the day, by Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), the chief science officer. Naird’s second-in-command is Gen. Brad Gregory (the great Don Lake). Mallory is assisted by Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang).

Naird also has to take care of his aging father (the late Fred Willard, an absolute genius, in his last role), and deal with his social media advisor, F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz, whose bits land more consistently than any others).

Tawny Newsome in “Space Force.”

Tawny Newsome in “Space Force.” (Photo: Netflix)

Tawny Newsome is good as Angela Ali, Naird’s helicopter pilot. She doesn’t like referring to her job by the name given by the government. Naird sets her straight: “Air Force has airmen. Space Force has spacemen. Nothing embarrassing or comical about that.”

The joke, of course, is that there is. But it’s not embarrassing or comical enough, like much of the show.

Carell doesn’t revisit Michael from ‘The Office.’ Much

Carell doesn’t play Naird as buffoonish as Michael Scott from “The Office,” but he’s a close cousin.

Remember the episode of “The Office” where we’re reminded that Michael, while a horrible boss, was a good salesman, when he lands a big contract in short order? Naird is kind of like that. He does dumb things, but he’s also a smart guy — he wouldn’t have this job if he weren’t. He’s qualified to fly all sorts of aircraft and has extensive military experience. He seems to have a good grasp of trigonometry, as he helps Erin with homework.

But he’s trapped in a situation he doesn’t want to be in, leading a stepchild branch of the service (Grabaston wants to bring it under the Air Force) that he’s constantly having to justify, to himself and others.

Like “The Office,” there is an underlying sweetness.

When Naird testifies before a congressional committee (complete with an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-like character), his justification for a $10,000 orange is genuinely heartfelt. But it’s a save, after bumbling about initially — a pattern the show follows frequently.

There’s so much talent here, and so much to draw from. You long for the brilliant savagery of “Veep.” In the six episodes Netflix provided for review, it’s not there. Too bad. “Space Force” isn’t toothless. But it could use more bite.

‘Space Force’

Streaming on Netflix beginning Friday, May 29.

Reach Goodykoontz at bill.goodykoontz@arizonarepublic.com. Facebook: facebook.com/GoodyOnFilm. Twitter: @goodyk.

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