Despite having one of the best writer/creators around and a fantastic cast, Greg Daniels’ Space Force was something of a flop, it had some okay ideas but the jokes were weak and the satirical elements only led to a bemused smirk, to the extent that despite adoring some of the other shows that he’s created I didn’t make it through to the end of the first season. Now a very similar series has launched which has an equally impressive pedigree both behind and in front of the camera, but can it succeed where Space Force failed?
Judging by this first episode it might, and the pilot is definitely funnier than Space Force’s was, but it’s still quite a muted piece, amusing in places but surprisingly low key despite having quite an unusual plot where in the coming months Nasa will build a base on the moon and so on Earth a number of astronauts are being trained to survive on it by living in a mock base in the desert. Which is why the cast wear full on Astronaut suits when buggering around outside, and when they run out of water they start to panic.
In this first episode Cap (John C. Reilly), Rook (Tim Heidecker), Skip (Fred Armisen) are joined by American Football player Travis Kelce, who NASA will think do wonders for them on the PR front, but if you’ve seen any of the trailers it won’t come as a shock that Kelce doesn’t survive until the credits, yet his death isn’t really played for laughs and no one has much of a reaction to it all. Well, bar disappointment, as Cap worries that if they report it than they’ll never get their chance to fly off in to space, and so for a short while they keep it under their hats.
Most of the time this is just your standard workplace sitcom as the character’s are gently introduced, with Kelce’s death mainly an excuse to reveal their motivations as to why they want to go up in to space. Cap’s portrayed as a slightly desperate sort who sees this as the one chance he has to redeem his image and not be seen as a deadbeat Dad, Rook’s doing it as his pastor thought “It’d be a good idea to help spread the gospel of Jesus Christ out in to the universe”, and Skip wants to carry on the legacy of his astronaut father, and all three come across as rather average individuals, vaguely funny but they’re not exactly memorable comic creations.
The majority of the laughs come from either Rook’s belief in God and his officious nature, along with tales of what he was like before he found religion, and he’s the only character I’m actually fond of despite my being one of those atheists who will burn in hell for all eternity. Skip and Cap don’t really provide any laughs and this could be a problem going forward, unless there’s some reason their personalities change quite suddenly. A couple of jokes while funny suggest they really are pretty stupid individuals too, like their collectively not knowing what NASA stands for, and Rook’s list of all the drugs he took in his wild Phish loving days, and so it makes it hard to believe they’d ever be employed by NASA in the first place.
Armisen, Heidecker and Reilly are all extremely talented individuals, along with director Jonathan Krisel who has a co-creator credit and who worked on such esteemed shows as Portlandia and Baskets, so it’s a surprise this is such a tame work. My fondness for the cast means I’m going to stick around for a few more episodes in the hope it ups its game, but this pilot doesn’t give me a huge amount of optimism that I’ll make it through to the end of the season.