Space Force

This is turning into a habit. Three weeks ago I binged (and loved) the entire first season of Solar Opposites (created by Justin Roiland). Two weeks ago I binged (and loved) the entire first season of Upload (created by Greg Daniels). Last week I caught up on other stuff, but did watch all of the first season of Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, although that took two evenings.

Last night I was up until after 3:00 AM watching the entire first season of Space Force, created by Steve Carrell and Greg Daniels. I very much enjoy the work of both, so I was very much looking forward to seeing this show. It may not be “the best show I’ve seen in awhile,” but it kept me watching to the end.

That said, I think Upload is the smarter comedy of the two.

A key axis in comedy is the stupidity, ignorance, or foolishness, of the people in-story. In a “smart” comedy, the characters all have normal intelligence, deal with life generally appropriately, have good knowledge of their situation, and generally respond like ordinary people. The comedy comes from the situation.

The old TV show M*A*S*H is, for me, almost the canonical example. All the characters generally acted like normal people most of the time. There was very little (arguably no) slapstick.

The other end of that axis is, again in my mind, best represented by The Three Stooges. I have never been a fan of that kind of comedy, and I have never liked The Three Stooges (I just don’t care for slapstick or idiot clowns).

Which is all to explain that Space Force leans a bit more into, not slapstick, but into the characters being almost (in my view) offensively stupid at times.

A good example is the episode with the potatoes. The entire setup for that episode required serious stupidity on the part of the characters. I get that it’s a reference to The Martian, but it took me out of the zone a bit.

That said, the episode ends on such a sweet note I forgave it.

§

The premise follows the creation of a new service branch, Space Force.

Steve Carell plays General Mark R. Naird, who has just been promoted to the rank of four-star general. He believes he’s about to be put in command of the Air Force, replacing a long-time nemesis, General Grabaston (Noah Emmerich).

Instead, to his shock, he’s given command of the new Space Force branch and, through Presidential Tweet, charged with getting “boots on the moon” by 2024.

(In point of fact, the Tweet reads “boobs on the moon” but they’re pretty sure it’s a typo.)

The other Joint Chiefs of Staff include: Jane Lynch, Navy; Diedrich Bader, Army; Patrick Warburton, Marines; and Larry Joe Campbell, Coast Guard. The meetings of the Joint Chiefs doesn’t happen often during the show, but it’s fun to see those actors during those infrequent scenes.

I’m a long-time fan of both Warburton (who was perfect as The Tick) and Lynch (who’s been so great in many Christopher Guest films).

John Malkovich plays Dr. Adrian Mallory, a civilian scientist heading Space Force’s science division.

Wiki says he’s intended as a parody of Dr. Strangelove, and while I love that movie, I did not get that sense at all. In fact, I’d have to say it’s flat out wrong, and I don’t know what they could mean.

Dr. Mallory is a pacifist. He despises the military and utterly opposes the intended militarization of space or the Moon. Nor is he, as far as I can tell, an ex-Nazi. So where is the Strangelove comparison? That’s just nuts. I truly don’t see any points in common other than both being scientists.

Some of the charm of the series is the evolving relationship between Gen. Naird and Dr. Mallory. Both actors are a delight to watch, and the arc of how they learn to work with each other was good. To some extent one can just sit back and watch those two pros work.

§

Lisa Kudrow plays Maggie Naird, the General’s wife. In the first episode, she is so proud of her husband’s promotion and thrilled to be settling in Washington, D.C., in a house that comes with a staff.

When she learns heading Space Force involves moving to a military base located outside a small town in Colorado, she begins to sob…

And when we meet her again, it’s in very unusual circumstances that end up presenting a conundrum for both spouses. I will mention that, in the first season, we never learn why she’s in those circumstances.

I can guess, though, it has to do with her disappointment. Apparently it was pronounced.

I will say that the episode involving (spoiler: highlight blank to reveal) [the conjugal visit] was really good. A nice exploration of human love relationships. The show’s human moments are, by far (in my eyes, anyway), its best.

§

Overall, I give Space Force a strong Ah! rating. It might earn a Wow! over time. (In contrast, I gave Upload a provisional Wow! for the first season. I did enjoy the writing a little more in that one.)

The slightly lower rating compared to Daniels’ Upload is almost entirely based on the slightly broader tone of the comedy. It’s just not my favorite cuppa.

The potatoes episode was one example. Another involves what happens with the Chinese [on the Moon]. It was so obvious what was happening, that it required script idiocy on the part of the characters to ignore it (although one legit issue is that some of the characters are, in fact, very stupid). But at the very least, Captain Ali should have figured out the implications.

That said, I laughed out loud a lot and was very engaged throughout.

In fact, I lost track of which episode I was on and was a bit surprised to realize I was watching the final episode (of ten). As with most TV series these days, the season ends with a cliffhanger.

(There is some tension in the last episodes that gets dramatic and maybe even a little scary for parents. I’ll just remind that this is a comedy, and no great harm comes to anyone. (The monkey ate the dog, so there is that. Kind of an interesting bit in light of the important trope “the dog always survives.”))

Bottom line, I definitely enjoyed it and recommend it. The caveat is that comedy involves personal taste more than drama, so the admonishment that “if you like that sort of thing” applies.

§

On a musical note, there’s that old saying “You had me at hello.” In this case, I have to confess the show kinda had me when it (twice!) used a favorite song from a favorite album.

The album is Son of Schmilsson, by the incomparable Harry Nilsson. For me it’s up there with Tommy, Bat Out of Hell, Boston’s first album, Gerry Rafferty’s City to City, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and several others as cherished all-time favorites.

Those rare albums where you just love every tune on the album forever.

If you know the Son of Schmilsson album (and if you don’t, go buy it immediately), you can surely guess which tune they used. They lit me up when they used it for the transition from the Washington D.C. scenes to the Colorado Space Force base. They also used it to play out the end of the last episode.

I refer, of course, to this (I suggest you crank the volume):

Stay spaced, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “Space Force

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Apologies to those who, because they’re reading in the buggy and slightly incompetent WP Reader, saw the two spoilers I tried to conceal. The Reader just doesn’t respect a lot of HTML or CSS, so it refuses to use color when rendering text. (As someone with over 40 years of software design experience, I find it utterly inexplicable, but whatever.)

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Good write up! But it reminded me that I need to check out Upload. I like the sound of it being a slightly more serious comedy. And I suspect I’ll enjoy its existential issues.

    But I definitely plan to finish Space Force too.

    I appreciate the effort with the spoilers. I’ve thought about using the details-summary tag before to hide them in a collapsible section, but I’m not sure how reliable it would be in the reader, or in older browsers. The text selection trick also has issues on mobile devices, in that selecting it often doesn’t show the text, although I guess that’s not as bad as accidentally showing it.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks! If you’re liking Space Force, I think you’ll really like Upload. It’s definitely the more thought provoking series. (One thing it seems one can count on is that series created by Daniels at least have pretty good storytelling.)

      The spoiler tactic, yeah, the Reader ignores it and mobile device highlighting doesn’t work that way. I keep meaning to see if I can’t do something with JavaScript, but I have no idea if WP allows it embedded in a post. (Even if it does, some users turn it off, but I suppose these days that ends up being a pretty severe limit.)

      (I’ve wanted to post animated GIFs before, but don’t like just showing them. I tend to find the animation annoying when I’m trying to read and assume others do, too. So I want a link that starts/stops the animation, which is pretty easy to do if I can embed some JS. But there’s no sense of urgency, and I’ve never gotten around to trying it.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        It’s been years since I tried, but I know WP used to eat any custom Javascript, or any html tag it doesn’t recognize for that matter.

        I know what you mean about animated GIFs. I used one for my FTL time travel post. It got Liked enough to put it in the Top Posts widget on my sidebar, where it annoyed me and probably lots of other people. I finally had to go add an extra image in and make it featured, to get the animated one off the sidebar. (I couldn’t just delete the animated image, because I refer to it in the text.)

      • Wyrd Smythe

        I just tried it, and WP eats href attributes with javascript: indicators. Damn it.

        I can see why, JS is dangerous, but a little finer control might be nice. Does WP have any way to authorize a given JS script or use? An ISP I used a long time ago had a system where, if you wanted to use JS on your webpage, they would inspect and validate the script. (Although I guess that was back in the days that WWW meant World Wild Web.)

        What I’ve done in the past is provide a link to the animated GIF people can click. I just really hate having motion on the screen while I’m trying to read. That’s a bit tricky if your text makes heavy use of the diagram, though. You’re kinda stuck in that case.

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        Looks like you have to go Business plan to do Javascript.
        https://wordpress.com/support/code/
        I’ve thought about going Business before. You can install plugins and themes. (Maybe I’d write my own.) Not sure it’s worth the extra $200 / year though. Either that or going self hosted, but I have people at work managing WP self hosted and it’s a PITA.

        Just watched the first episode of Upload. I’m definitely into this one. Thanks for recommending it!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Definitely not interested in self-hosting! And not interested enough in having JS to pay $200/year. But now we know.

        Yeah, Upload is definitely a keeper. I’m looking forward to the next season.

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