John Malkovich is well. Greg Daniels is well.
In fact, we’re all well. Everyone is well.
This despite the fact we’re talking via an elaborate Zoom based press junket for Netflix’s new comedy, Space Force, that has stretched the limits of our conference call understanding.
There was the initial Zoom dial in. Half a dozen confused faces, their bedrooms and home offices visible in the background. Then there were the separate break out rooms, accessed via a new Zoom link, to discuss the minutiae of coverage. Then back to the main call, before eventually, a new link entirely landed in our inbox and took us, at last, to our destination: Face time with John Malkovich, Greg Daniels and the cast of the show.
Let’s say right off the bat that John Malkovich is an intimidating person to interview. We should, of course, be able to separate the man from the work, but staring into your laptop on a Saturday evening talking to Cyrus the Virus is a bit unnerving. Especially when you ask him to do as much of the world is currently doing, and take part in a Zoom quiz with you. More on which, below.
Still, we press on, and Malkovich begins describing his character, Dr Adrian Mallory, in that unmistakably enunciated voice.
“He’s someone who believes there shouldn’t be any militarization of space” he says. It’s a place for humans to explore. That’s all, to explore and learn and experience.
And that, it could be said, sums up the tone of the show.
Created and written by Greg Daniels and Steve Carell, the team behind the American Office, and with a pretty galactic cast to boot (see also Lisa Kudrow, Fred Willard, Diana Silvers and Noah Emmerich) Space Force has been much anticipated but little known about until now.
The show centres around General Mark Naird, (Steve Carell) who is handed the reigns to a new branch of the armed forces. He must move himself and his family across the country and start a new life among skeptical subordinates and cut throat colleagues, all while trying to manage something he has no experience with: space.
Developed off the back of the announcement that the US military was launching a new branch, to protect American interests in space, Daniels and Carel created the show almost concurrently to the actual Space Force being developed. Did they worry that truth would be stranger than fiction?
“You know it’s funny, says Daniels, “We took the same announcement as the starting point of Space Force and then you know, we didn't really hear much what they were doing and we had to produce a TV show. And now what's really fun is that they're releasing the fruits of their design process, just as ours is also coming to air.”
Daniels is referring to a gag early in the first series where Potus’ wife decides she wants to design Space Force’s uniforms.
“And so for instance. The other day, they [Space Force proper] released their camouflage fatigues. And, you know, we, as a joke made camouflage fatigues based on a photo of the moon from the satellite, which is ridiculous, obviously. So, I thought that was a pretty good joke but then they they came out with their fatigues and they're using jungle fatigues, which is a level of absurdity higher than anything we could imagine.”
Checkmate to the current administration, then. And yet, as farcical as the US government’s plans, or indeed the fictional show get, there is a bigger problem here: it’s just not very funny.
We waited patiently for a laugh all the way through the first half of the season. The closest we got was the now late but always great Fred Willard, losing his marbles down the phone. But his part is minor. Even a monkey floating around a space station couldn’t help.
It’s a shame because despite not getting any laughs, Carel’s General Naird is likeable; you root for him. Malkovich’s permanently seething Dr Mallory could have been a delicious role for us to enjoy and the rest of the characters had real potential, too. Tawny Newsome’s Angela Ali, a helicopter pilot, and Diana Silvers’ Erin Naird (Genreal Naird’s daughter) had the beginnings of a great on-screen relationship. Jimmy O’Yang’s Dr Chan Kaifang was full of simmering indignation.
You get the feeling that the men and women tasked with working at the real Space Force will probably watch this show and identify with the characters’ obvious frustrations.
Apparently though, in space, no one can hear you laugh.