The trailer for the new Netflix series, Space Force, proudly proclaims the show is about what happens when the federal government creates a sixth branch of the military focused on space. Sound familiar?
The show premiered on Netflix on May 29, 2020 to mixed reviews, but the fan reaction to the show (like so many other comedies and science fiction programs that have come before) is different–and not even the big-league magazines can agree whether the show is a hit or a flop. Some feel the first season of ANY new show is likely to be bumpy compared to later seasons (Star Trek: The Next Generation, anyone?). Like wine, Space Force on Netflix may require a bit of aging first. But the promise is definitely there.
Riffing On The Real-World USSF
The real Space Force, brought into existence thanks to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, created a real-life sixth branch of the military by converting Air Force Space Command to U.S. Space Force (USSF).
Since then, the newest branch of military service has drawn from a pool of Air Force career fields, and there are plans to open the doors later down the line for more staffing including from other branches of the U.S. military (at least according to initial plans and goals outlined for USSF).
The federal government has always been fertile ground for comedians, comedy writers, and television shows; Space Force the Netflix show plows that field in ways some viewers might not expect (at least initially).
The most obvious targets of humor related to Space Force are in the highest levels of the federal government, but the Netflix show focuses on the interpersonal comedy related to being thrown into an unfamiliar environment with complicated expectations.
Some might expect a show that riffs on the absurdity of the idea of having a Space Force at all, or comedy writing that is focused on lampooning current events specific to USSF, but current-events comedy doesn’t always age well and the writers of this particular show have in the past gravitated toward more interpersonal humor. Everybody loves a good potshot at the powers-that-be, but Space Force on Netflix is dedicated to “…the men and women who have to figure it out.”
In the early episodes of the show, a lot of the humor centers around the confusion and scrambling to meet the requirements of the new branch of service; the show feels a lot like the writers are asking the question, “What happens when the future is suddenly dumped in your lap and you’re told to make it happen?” And that is no doubt what some in the real USSF are feeling in the earliest days of the service.
And one great example of that? The mini-controversy surrounding who technically owns the trademark for the term Space Force. TheHill.com reports that the Netflix show registered its trademark as early as January 2020, while the Air Force has “only a pending application for registration in the United States. That means the show has more confirmed trademark rights than the U.S. military”.
U.S patents and trademarks are normally awarded on a “first user” basis; Space Force the Netflix show got there first. It’s the kind of scenario you’d actually watch Steve Carell complain about in the program itself; the fact that it’s happening in real life adds an extra, Doctor Strangelove-type irony. That film, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is famous for the scene where squabbling military members are informed, “Gentlemen! There is NO FIGHTING in the WAR ROOM.”
That’s the kind of comedy that made creators Greg Daniels and Steve Carell household names with shows like The Office, Parks and Recreation, and King of the Hill.
Space Force is scheduled for release on May 29, 2020.
Who Writes Space Force?
Individual episodes were written by one or more of the following:
- Steve Carell
- Greg Daniels
- Yael Green (Choosing Sides)
- Shepard Boucher (Riverdale)
- Lauren Houseman (Wayne, Army Wives)
- Brent Forrester (The Simpsons, King of the Hill)
- Aasia Lashay Bullock (The Good Place, Upload)
- Connor Hines
- Maxwell Theodore Vivian (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia)
- Paul Lieberstein (The Office)
Who Is In Space Force?
The main cast of Space Force includes:
- Steve Carell: General Mark R. Naird
- John Malkovich: Dr. Adrian Mallory
- Ben Schwartz: Secretary of The Air Force
- Diana Silvers: Erin Naird
- Tawny Newsome: Angela Ali
There is also a cast of recurring characters:
- Lisa Kudrow: Maggie Naird
- Noah Emmerich: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Jimmy O. Yang: Chan Kaifang
- Alex Sparrow: Yuri “Bobby” Telatovich
- Don Lake: Brad Gregory
- Jessica St. Clair: Kelly King
The Space Force Honor Roll: Fred Willard, 1933-2020
The late, great Fred Willard was a cast member in Space Force; listed as a recurring character in the series as the character General Mark R. Naird’s father. Willard was the star of many influential and highly beloved comedies including This Is Spinal Tap, Anchorman, A Mighty Wind, and many others.
Willard died of cardiac arrest on May 15, 2020 and fans of both Space Force and Willard himself will be at once pleased that he had one last high-visibility role before passing on, and sad to watch the program knowing he will not return for another series.
The Reel Space Force Versus The Real Space Force
When the Netflix original series was announced, some sources (including us) speculated that when the show premiered, it wouldn’t include a focus on real-world events of the for-real USSF.
But the humor in the show is very much directed at current events in a broader sense; there is much screen time devoted to the characters responding to their given missions during a time when leadership or policy decisions from the (real and fictitious) Commander-In-Chief is often learned via Tweet before any official DoD memoranda are issued.
Space Force on screen shouldn’t be viewed with a critical eye toward accuracy or technical correctness.
This is a Steve Carell comedy and most viewers likely know what to expect there. Some military audiences will utterly cringe at the display of awards and decorations on Carell’s uniform–certain badges appeared to be improperly fixed to the uniform, and sticklers will find much to pick apart where some military customs and courtesies are involved.
Overall, the show’s first season feels a lot like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in terms of its’ potential; like DS9, Space Force has some strong writing, but in the earliest episodes of the show, this is a program clearly trying to find its’ stride.
But the indicators are there; Space Force has the ability to evolve into something great; it just takes time for the writers to discover where the true strengths of their creation lies. If you are looking for a “buy it or ignore it” recommendation, it might be best to give this series a little time to grow, but it’s entertaining in its own right in the earliest days.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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