It’s been 15 years since Greg Daniels and Acton native Steve Carell first teamed up on “The Office,” the hit NBC sitcom that debuted in March 2005. The show launched the careers of local stars like Newton native John Krasinski and Cambridge native Mindy Kaling, and has enjoyed a healthy second life on Netflix, with the sitcom remaining one of the most consistently popular titles on the platform seven years after the series finale in 2013.
So it makes perfect sense that Netflix enlisted Carell and Daniels for the new show “Space Force,” out Friday. Decorated four-star general Mark R. Naird (Carell) hopes to one day run the Air Force, but is instead appointed as head of the newly formed sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Forces: Space Force.
With a timely premise and a stacked supporting cast including John Malkovich (“In the Line of Fire”), Ben Schwartz (“Parks and Recreation”), Lisa Kudrow (“Friends”), and the late Fred Willard (“Best in Show”), “Space Force” seemed like a home run for the streaming giant. But critic response has been tepid, with the series earning a 37 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this article’s publication.
That said, a single number can’t adequately capture the range of critical response, and many of the reviews coded as “fresh” or “rotten” by the critical aggregation site have a bit more nuance. To help you judge whether to add the show to your queue, here’s what some of the top TV critics are saying, both good and bad, about “Space Force.”
Wall Street Journal critic Dorothy Rabinowitz called the show “more ambitious” than “The Office,” singling out the show’s writers and supporting cast for praise:
Among the enchanting aspects of “Space Force” (Friday, Netflix), and they’re countless, is its capacity to seem what it decidedly is not. […] This is comedy infinitely more ambitious, more a product of a grand inventiveness than anything in “The Office.”
The AV Club’s Erik Adams highlighted the show’s deep supporting cast as a strength, along with Carell’s comedic chemistry with condescending scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (Malkovich):
Space Force almost never fails as a delivery system for talented funny people doing their thing. The cast is the comedy equivalent of the Mercury Seven, a crew bearing the unmistakable fingerprints of casting director Allison Jones. Carell and Lisa Kudrow (as Naird’s wife, Maggie) are the big draws, but the premiere tosses out ringer after ringer,?
Ben Travers of IndieWire also highlighted the interplay between Carell and Malkovich.:
As the well-spoken, well-reasoned foil to Naird’s blunt-talking, “when in doubt, drop a bomb” general, everything from Malkovich’s carefully paced elocution to his subtle reactions work in brilliant comedic contrast to his regular scene partner. Together, Carell and Malkovich forge a charismatic pair that could carry even more episodes than they already do.
In her C+ review for Entertainment Weekly, Kristen Baldwin notes a few positive elements, including Malkovich, but says that Carell’s four-star general lacks a definitive point of view:
Daniels and Carell, meanwhile, can’t seem to decide who they want their protagonist to be. Is Naird an insufferable buffoon who says things like “I am what used to be known in America as a man” and self-soothes by singing “Kokomo,” or is he just a good-hearted guy desperately trying to hold it together under intense pressure from a “chaotic” D.C. administration and unforeseen obstacles at home?
Richard Roeper, of the Chicago Sun-Times, enjoyed the show, but said that given the talent involved, he found “Space Force” only “mildly funny” when he had expected “Mel Brooks funny.”
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed “Space Force.” The roughly half-hour episodes zip by and elicit a steady stream of smiles and chuckles. It’s just with all the credentials of the main contributors, we hoped for greatness and got … pretty good.
The Boston Globe’s Matthew Gilbert called the show “the year’s biggest TV disappointment,” criticizing Daniels and Carell for coming up with a two-word title and then reverse-engineering a humorless show:
It seems as though Netflix, whose exclusive streaming deal with “The Office” ends later this year, is trying to fill in an anticipated gap with “Space Force.” But there is a lack of vision in the show they devised, as it veers awkwardly between farce and drama, spoof and romcom. It qualifies as the year’s biggest TV disappointment so far..
Jen Chaney, of Vulture, said her reaction to President Donald Trump announcing Space Force was the same as when she watched “Space Force”: “Why is this happening?”
Why and how did a series co-created by The Office veterans Greg Daniels and Steve Carell, with a cast of really funny actors — including Carell, John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Lisa Kudrow, the late Fred Willard, Noah Emmerich, and Dan Bakkedahl, among others — come out this bad? It’s painful to say this, but Space Force is a massive misfire, a show shocking in its inability to generate modest chuckles, let alone laughs.
The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever wrote that “Space Force” suffered two problems: Carell and Daniels “sleep-walking” through writing the show, and that President Trump’s force was too ridiculous to effectively parody:
How could this show have failed? A commission will have to be appointed to conduct a more formal inquiry, but, as NASA might remind us, don’t overlook the most likely cause: When an obvious joke has already been made in real life, it’s probably not a great idea to try to make the same joke over and over again, two years later, for 10 whole episodes.