Roush Review: ‘Space Force’ Flies High With Satirical Bravado

Steve Carell as General Mark Naird in Season 1 of Space Force on Netflix

“Space is hard.”

This is undoubtedly true. It’s even harder not to laugh when Steve Carell, as gung-ho general Mark Naird, sputteringly utters this confession while defending his fledgling Space Force at a Saturday Night Live–worthy parody of a congressional budget hearing. (There’s an “angry young congresswoman” AOC lookalike, for starters.)

Comedy isn’t easy, either, but Carell and fellow creator/executive producer Greg Daniels (both of The Office) mostly succeed in the Netflix comedy Space Force, a spirited satire of military bravado clashing with political hubris during a 21st-century race to the moon. Though this time, it’s the Chinese who are our cunning and confrontational rivals.

Space Force gets off to a strong start when the panicky Naird, reluctantly accepting the leadership role in this new branch of the armed forces, spars for respect with his combative fellow Joint Chiefs. Reaching for a Veep level of cynical snark, this is one raunchy round table of comic talent: Jane Lynch, Patrick Warburton, Diedrich Bader and The AmericansNoah Emmerich showing robust comic chops as Kick Grabiston (not the most subtle of names), Naird’s mocking Air Force nemesis.

space force john malkovich

(Credit: Netflix)

The series launches into even higher gear when Naird is assigned Dr. Adrian Mallory (a droll John Malkovich) as his civilian science adviser, who objects to turning this impossibly sped-up mission — getting humans back on the moon by 2024, or earlier — into a quest where brawn matters more than brains. What a grand odd couple they make: Naird’s nervously bombastic idealism bouncing off Mallory’s persnickety dour pragmatism. And their team is ensemble gold: Don Lake as Naird’s overly eager-to-please assistant, Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley) as Mallory’s unflappable No. 2 and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation) as the smarmiest of media managers.

Naird and Mallory contend with one wacky crisis after another while assembling a crew of space cadets, including the appealing Tawny Newsome as a pilot thrust into the spotlight. Unfortunately, Carell is also saddled with an earthbound subplot of playing single dad to a rebellious and neglected teenage daughter (Diana Silvers). Why wife Maggie (the expert Lisa Kudrow) is MIA shouldn’t be spoiled, though her situation is never properly explained.

Maybe the best reason to enlist in Space Force: the posthumous performance of Fred Willard in one of his last TV roles as Naird’s lovingly befuddled dad, a grace note for an earnestly amusing show that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its star-spangled sleeve.

Space Force, Series Premiere, Friday, May 29, Netflix