Roush Review: Showtime’s ‘Moonbase 8’ Has Too Much of the Wrong Stuff

Moonbase 8 John C Reilly Fred Armisen Tim Heidecker
Courtesy of A24 Films/SHOWTIME

Imagine being lost in space before you ever get off the ground.

Welcome to Moonbase 8, a droll but dull comedy set on a way station to nowhere inhabited by three hapless astronauts with all the wrong stuff. Pathos rather than actual humor is the prevailing tone as we get to know the crew of a would-be spaceship of fools: blustery team leader Cap (John C. Reilly), a former helicopter tour pilot from Hawaii who’s fleeing a failed business and marriage; Skip (Saturday Night Live and Portlandia veteran Fred Armisen), a second-generation NASA scientist with an inferiority complex; and Rook (Tim Heidecker), a devoutly faithful nincompoop who left a small army of children back home.

Stuck in the Arizona desert at a simulated moon base that pales next to a neighboring facility from the better-funded SpaceX, these bland boobs are a far cry from the dashing heroes of Mercury and Apollo. And they know it.

“I feel like NASA’s just farming us out,” gripes Skip when the closest they get to Mars is product-testing a new candy bar. “How are we taking this seriously?” Obviously we’re not supposed to, but their existential ennui is hardly an invitation to laughter. There’s an improvisational feel to the bantering and bumbling, making it seem like this was probably more fun to make than to watch. I’d hold out for the blooper reel.

Things at Moonbase 8 improve considerably whenever these sad sacks welcome visitors, including American Idol’s Adam Lambert and Alia Shawkat (Search Party) in the fourth episode as hipsters from SpaceX who tour the base, barely disguising their contempt for these dinosaurs. Still, the humiliation is more crushing than amusing when Cap desperately pitches a merger, then demands a footrace where falling on one’s face is less a surprise than an inevitability.

John C. Reilly on 'Moonbase 8's Dim-Witted Trio of AstronautsSee Also

John C. Reilly on 'Moonbase 8's Dim-Witted Trio of Astronauts

The actor stars in this Showtime comedy alongside Fred Armisen and Tim Heidecker.

The most promising episode in this initial six-pack comes near the end, hinting at tension amid the claustrophobia and isolation, something viewers who’ve sheltered in place this year will be able to relate to. Armisen’s sly underplaying is at its best when Skip mischievously goads Cap to anger, and Rook tries to play peacemaker with a ridiculous board game that only inflames the situation.

But by the finale, when Rook laments, “When are we going to go to the next level?” I couldn’t help but wonder the same about this show.

Moonbase 8, Series Premiere, Sunday, November 8, 11/10c, Showtime