Earlier this month Greg Daniels released his new series Upgrade on Amazon Prime, a nicely strange but very likeable insight in to how life might be if your consciousness could be uploaded to an online virtual reality, and he’s now already back with a new Netflix show. He’s reunited with his old The Office star Steve Carell too, who gets a co-creator credit, in this satire on the US space which has been made all the more relevant when Trump renamed the Air Force Space Command arm of the military Space Force in December.
The trailer made it look reasonable awful and it is at least slightly better than that, but it’s a curiously flat show, one which isn’t in any way bad but the laughs are often absent. Carrel plays Mark R. Naird in the show, a freshly made four star general, and his first assignment is to head the brand new Space Force arm of the military, as POTUS wants boots on the moon, though this is introduced with the line “Actually he said boobs on the moon but we believe that to be a typo”. It’s typical of the mild attacks it makes on a never named Trump, and the kind of humour found throughout the episode which might make you smile but laughter is unlikely.
It’s frustrating because the show does at least start well as a number of military heads are snarky with each other and mock each other’s branch of the military, but then events jump forward a year as the first spaceship is set to be launched and it becomes far, far blander, with many of the jokes not landing at all. There’s a recurring gag for instance where Naird’s secretary Brad never lets Naird know that someone’s waiting for him in his office, much to Naird’s annoyance, but it’s a pretty poor stab at humour that I presumed would have some sort of pay off but which never came, or hasn’t in the first episode at least.
Naird’s a fairly uptight individual and under pressure from all sides as congress people are visiting to witness the launch of spaceship Epsilon 6, which Dr Mallory (John Malkovich, better than he has been in ages) feels shouldn’t take place as the conditions aren’t suitable, and he’s backed up by Jimmy O. Yang’s Dr Chan, with Naird revealing a slightly unpleasant racist side to his character as he question’s Chan’s suitability for the role. It’s an odd decision considering we’re supposed to sympathise with Naird as he’s under so much pressure to deliver, but it only served to make me dislike him a little.
The show also introduces a wealth of other characters including Naird’s wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) who in the one year later section of the show is mysteriously in prison, though we’re never told why, along with Naird’s father (Fred Willard, in what would turn out to be his last role), Naird’s son and daughter, plus all of the people he works with including a Russian liaison that his daughter is dating, his social media manager Tony (Ben Schwartz) who is fired as he’s seemingly only interested in insulting the social media accounts of popular fast food restaurants, helicopter pilot Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome) who Naird clicks with, then falls out with, and later gives a pineapple too as an apology, and also Greg Daniels’ son plays space cadet Obie Hanrahan, and normally I’d cry nepotism but he’s proven himself to be a superb actor and a great writer on Upload so I’ll let it slide this one time.
That’s not even mentioning a few other supporting characters, and all of them get very little to do in the show, mostly being introduced in one scene and then not being seen again or only once or twice and very briefly at that. Of course they’ll pop up later on in the series but it made the pilot feel over stuffed, and none of them really got anything funny to do, with Carell given the majority of the funny lines and scenes.
On that front, Carell’s been responsible for creating some much loved characters including The Office’s Michael Scott, Anchorman’s Brick Tamland and Despicable Me’s Gru, but I’d be amazed if General Mark R. Naird joins the list. He briefly shows a quirky side when he lets off steam by dancing along to “Kokomo” by The Beach Boys but most of the time he’s anxious and apprehensive, and even a bit of a jerk because yes, the way he treats Dr Chan really is weirdly off and is still annoying me a lot. Carell mostly deadpans his way through the role and is at times amusing as he attempts to deal with a huge group of demanding characters, but it’s surprising how lifeless and uninspired many of the supposedly amusing lines he trots out are.
The ending sort of gives him a win as initially the launch of Epsilon 6 is a success as much to the scientist’s surprise it makes orbit, but then right at the end that’s taken away when rather conveniently as he’s watching the ship through a telescope at home another spaceship comes along and cuts off its solar panels. It’s a sequence which not only has quite poor cgi but seems a little odd, Naird shouts “Motherfucker” and it’s perhaps vaguely hinted at that the Russian’s are behind it, but that doesn’t help it be in any way amusing.
If it wasn’t Greg Daniels and Carell behind the show I’d probably quit now, but both have two of the best comedy cv’s in the business so I’ll stick with it for the time being. I only hope that they not only make Naird and the supporting cast far more interesting than they currently are but also greatly increase the gag rate as otherwise this might be the first flop Daniels has been involved with in a long, long time.