‘Space Force’s Steve Carell & Greg Daniels on the High Stakes of the Workplace Comedy
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… Scratch that. A couple of years ago here on Earth, The Office cocreator Greg Daniels and his leading man on the NBC hit, Steve Carell, had already been tossing around the idea of collaborating again when the actor took a meeting with Netflix to discuss potential projects. Around the same time, the U.S. government announced plans for a sixth branch of the armed forces to operate beyond the Earth’s atmosphere — a topic that came up during Carell’s sit-down with the streaming service.
“So I got a call from Steve saying, ‘What about something on Space Force?'” recalls Daniels. “I was like, ‘Duh.'”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the rest: The pair developed an irreverent, laugh-out-loud workplace comedy revolving around patriotic Air Force general Mark Naird (Carell), who’s tapped to oversee the U.S.’s ambitious outer space defense program and get “boots on the moon” by 2024, per the unseen-onscreen president.
One big problem? Naird “is a little bit science illiterate,” concedes Daniels. “Also he’s inflexible, and he is not used to creativity. So those are drawbacks when you’re running a space agency.”
Nevertheless, he’s dedicated to the mission. “Naird’s heart is in the right place. He’s also tough — you don’t get to be a four-star general without some ability,” says Carell, who channeled the quiet dignity of his dad, a 94-year-old World War II veteran, to portray the character. The 10-time Emmy nominee is quick to point out soldiers don’t serve as the butt of any jokes. “We respect the people in the service,” he says. “It’s not lampooning them.”
There are plenty of other ways to make audiences laugh, starting with the colorful characters in Naird’s orbit. His wife, Maggie (Friends icon Lisa Kudrow), remains relentlessly chipper despite her odd situation, which we won’t spoil here. (“They’re estranged, but not by their own choosing,” Carell teases.) And at Space Force HQ, he’s saddled with inept assistant Brad Gregory (Don Lake, NCIS), smarmy media consultant F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz, Parks and Recreation), and uptight scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), a civilian employee who cares more about the knowledge they’ll gain than the military defense aspect of the mission.
“They’re opposites,” Carell says of Mallory and Naird, “and when those worlds intersect, it’s fertile ground for comedy.” Indeed, Carell admits he would often break character during scenes with the two-time Oscar nominee, saying, “When he improvised, it always made me laugh because the most unexpected things would come out of his mouth.” Such as: impressions, like Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies! Daniels promises a gag reel featuring the guys’ best outtakes: “It feels like they both are trying to guess what the other one’s going to do and then surprise each other.”
Their chemistry is key for the high-stakes scenarios that dot these 10 episodes, including a cringe-worthy congressional hearing about Space Force’s budget and a remote satellite repair involving a dog and a chimpanzee that almost goes right. In the end, whether Naird achieves his mission is almost beside the point. It’s just fun watching him try to get there.
Space Force, Series Premiere, Friday, May 29, Netflix