Space Force First Reviews: Steve Carell and John Malkovich Struggle To Make Netflix's New Workplace Comedy Soar

Critics say the leads shine, and the premise has great potential, but the jokes don't always land and the show doesn't quite know what it wants to be.

by | May 26, 2020 | Comments

Space Force marks the highly-anticipated reunion of The Office alums Greg Daniels and Steve Carell. Carell, who co-created the series with Daniels, plays four-star General Mark R. Naird, who leads the newly-minted sixth branch of the U.S. Armed Services — a concept directly inspired by Donald Trump’s very-real announcement to have American boots back on the moon by 2024. John Malkovich’s Dr. Adrian Mallory is Naird’s unlikely partner, offering unwelcome scientific insight during every step of the mission. According to the first reviews of the series, the timely comedy struggles to connect with audiences and many of the jokes fall flat, but the show’s two leads deliver the goods in bringing their characters to life.

Here’s what critics are saying about Season 1 of Space Force:

Steve Carell and John Malkovich have strong comedic chemistry

But where the show really strikes a chord is in the more heartfelt, charming moments – particularly between Carrell’s regimented veteran Naird and Malkovich’s stubborn head scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory. —Nicola Austin, We Have a Hulk

Carell remains likable and charismatic, even if his gravelly voice as Mark sounds a bit forced, and he and Malkovich (underrated for his comedic abilities) have entertaining chemistry. — Josh Bell, CBR

And the show comes to life most when we get to watch Carell and Malkovich go head-to-head as military determination clashes with scientific limitations. — Nola Ojomu, Metro

Together, Carell and Malkovich forge a charismatic pair that could carry even more episodes than they already do, while Malkovich’s Dr. Mallory could certainly stand for more development on his own. — Ben Travers, IndieWire

Carell and Malkovich make a great comedic duo! — Grace Randolph, Beyond the Trailer

Steve Carell in Space Force
(Photo by Aaron Epstein/Netflix)

Carell does his best to distance himself from Michael Scott

Carell is good playing Naird as a straight-laced military man, who rigidly adheres to his principles even when they make him utterly depressed. After a long day on the job, he’s a good dad, who makes time to help his daughter with her math homework.— Jonathan W. Hickman, The Newnan Times-Herald

Mark Naird isn’t exactly Michael Scott 2.0. He has a wife, Maggie (Lisa Kudrow in a part-time role), a teenage daughter, Erin (Diana Silvers), and is more aggressive and confident than Michael ever was. He’s a plausibly orthodox military man; when Maggie complains that he’s too rigid in his thinking, he insists, “I can be flexible if I’m ordered to be.” But the way Naird stalks through most of the episodes as a defiantly ignorant, periodically bigoted a–hole feels unfortunately very reminiscent of that first Office season when Michael was unbearable. — Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone

Carrell plays General Mark R. Naird like a puffed-up, military-issue Michael Scott — complete with earnest love for his workmates and an inability to recognise the error of his ways until it’s too late. —Brian Lloyd,

Unfortunately, the jokes fail to connect 

But it might be easier to listen to than most of the jokes. Space Force is inexplicably unfunny, a black hole for laughter, with stretches of bombs lasting minutes, not just because the gags rarely work, but because there aren’t that many jokes in the first place. It feels like the first draft of a comedy before the jokes were put in. — Tim Surette, TV Guide

The jokes themselves are also scarce, and when they do show up, they can be painfully all over the place. — Sean Price, The Spool

Daniels and Carell have failed to give their series any discernible point of view, delivering instead an innocuous and startlingly unfunny sitcom about military bureaucracy. — Kristen Baldwin, EW

Put a different way, for Space Force to work, Carell and Daniels — as capable a pair of satirists as we have (see The Office) — would need to come with their humorous focus and targets incredibly well honed. Through the first season, despite fitful highlights, that just isn’t there. — Daniel Fienberg, THR

Here’s a comedy for people either desperate for new Office content, or who still find “covfefe” funny. —Blake Goble, Consequence of Sound

Ben Schwartz in Space Force
(Photo by Aaron Epstein/Netflix)

Political satire or surreal comedy — the show struggles to find its tone

At certain points it feels like biting satire, others complete farce. Sometimes the show is super silly and surreal, and other times it feels like a straight comedy. That inconsistent tone makes it so that you never know what you’re watching or what you’ll get from scene to scene, episode to episode. — Michael Walsh, Nerdist

The series, of course, isn’t going to come without having some contemporary references. On the political side, there are clear-as-day references to Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Ortez. Though for whatever reason, the Schumer-esque character is a congressman rather than a senator. Instead of AOC, we have AYC (Ginger Gonzaga) aka Angry Young Congresswoman.— Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

Admittedly, the parodies are a little too on-the-nose at times, removing the suspension of reality some might expect while they put on a movie or TV series. Even then, that’s something that speaks volumes to the world we live in, rather than to the quality of the programming itself. — Adam Barnhardt, Comic Book

Its pieces of political satire are both too literal (as when a young liberal congresswoman named “Anabela Ysidro-Campos,” played by Ginger Gonzaga, gives Space Force’s hell in a hearing that evokes an SNL cold open) and too dated (Mark’s annoying communications manager, played by Ben Schwartz, is “Tony Scarapiducci,” or more colloquially, “F— Tony” as in “F—Jerry,” I guess?). — Caroline Framke, Variety

The ensemble cast is spectacular

And their team is ensemble gold: Don Lake as Naird’s overly eager-to-please assistant, Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley) as Mallory’s unflappable No. 2 and Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation) as the smarmiest of media managers. […] Maybe the best reason to enlist in Space Force: the posthumous performance of Fred Willard in one of his last TV roles as Naird’s lovingly befuddled dad, a grace note for an earnestly amusing show that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its star-spangled sleeve. — Matt Roush, TV Insider

Ben Schwartz , whom many will remember for his cheeky Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation, is still a comic relief at all times. — Mikel Zorrilla, Espinof

Oh, and every single time the Armed Forces 4-Star Generals meet, you are sure to be giggling in your seat. It is comprised of greats like Jane Lynch and Patrick Warburton and the dry humor is basically a masterpiece. Trust me. Whenever they showed the room, I knew it was about to be a hilarious scene.

I have to mention others like Tawny Newsome, Fred Willard (RIP), and Jimmy O. Yang. Each of them bring their own elements to the show. You know you have a good show on your hands when the supporting characters make you laugh just as hard as the main characters. In fact, Steve Carell almost plays the straight man in this one — almost. — Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

Space Force holds an incredible cast, with the likes of Ben Schwartz (now of Sonic the Hedgehog fame) and Lisa Kudrow, and even the late Fred Willard contributing to its star-studded comedic roster. — Andrew Dex, Starburst

Steve Carell and cast in Space Force
(Photo by Aaron Epstein/Netflix)

With a little finessing, Space Force could blossom into something great

This is one show that is easy to binge-watch and should be renewed for a second season at a minimum, if not longer. Netflix and Carrell have another hit on their hands that is enjoyable and entertaining, especially if they keep Malkovich as part of the cast. —Allison Skornick-Rose, Flick Direct

Still, Space Force comes at a time when audiences could use a bit of laughter and self-care. Mostly, the comedy is harmless and skates by on the charm of its ensemble cast (Don Lake deserves a shout-out for playing assistant Brad). Even if it doesn’t quite achieve the astronomical heights suggested by its wacky premise, there’s enough fuel in the tank to help the inaugural season coast on fumes. —Nate Adams, The Only Critic

Space Force maximizes the absurdity, turning this patently terrible situation into one in which laughter comes as a kind of release valve from a huge, churning sea of frustration.
In other words, the series is rather well-suited to the current moment. —Sonia Saraiya, Vanity Fair

Adjusted Score: 44.882%
Critics Consensus: An all-star cast and blockbuster-worthy special effects aren't enough to keep Space Force's uneven blend of earnestness and satire from spinning quickly out of comedic orbit.
Synopsis: A decorated pilot with dreams of running the Air Force, four-star general Mark R. Naird (Steve Carell) is thrown for... [More]

Tag Cloud

Interview Warner Bros. Action Schedule breaking bad ITV zero dark thirty cinemax YouTube hispanic Cannes Calendar Hear Us Out renewed TV shows Trivia Extras NYCC Nat Geo VH1 DC Universe Amazon Studios police drama psycho Drama obituary movies hollywood Paramount witnail Ovation Tumblr spy thriller Apple Countdown classics FXX Spectrum Originals doctor who Crackle cars Black Mirror book spinoff Comics on TV Columbia Pictures indie movie Showtime Sundance Now cancelled television stop motion Sony Pictures mutant cancelled Mary Tyler Moore History Lionsgate Winners satire Family Chilling Adventures of Sabrina CBS The Walking Dead rotten movies we love DGA nature BET Teen composers zombie asian-american Certified Fresh travel Western Disney streaming service films YouTube Red FOX Sundance TV Awards politics true crime Sci-Fi Walt Disney Pictures historical drama Film Festival Set visit vampires binge dceu Heroines PaleyFest period drama romance Amazon Prime Video game of thrones Ghostbusters Mary Poppins Returns Music Disney+ Disney Plus Food Network 72 Emmy Awards award winner A24 El Rey E3 Captain marvel CNN Disney Channel Quiz Super Bowl MCU Superheroes die hard Reality 2016 Mudbound SundanceTV Epix Hulu reboot video on demand animated documentary TCM fast and furious The CW Sneak Peek worst TCA 2017 quibi parents FX on Hulu Hallmark canceled TV shows Chernobyl Box Office Masterpiece Superheroe Crunchyroll Acorn TV psychological thriller Martial Arts documentaries RT History See It Skip It LGBTQ Nominations strong female leads cartoon child's play First Look YA WarnerMedia BBC justice league Mystery Hallmark Christmas movies TIFF Holiday laika Podcast sequel zombies IFC Films Rom-Com kids ghosts DirecTV Brie Larson cooking MTV TruTV Biopics casting First Reviews werewolf richard e. Grant Classic Film golden globes BBC One Universal anime Black History Month CMT TV renewals Bravo Anna Paquin Pet Sematary Shudder Fantasy WGN franchise Trophy Talk crime drama LGBT cults twilight Paramount Network GLAAD superhero crime 2018 Opinion Starz Rock screen actors guild comedies Stephen King New York Comic Con Netflix medical drama natural history Avengers PBS Pop streaming based on movie PlayStation Song of Ice and Fire Funimation romantic comedy Mary poppins tv talk supernatural A&E DC streaming service space USA ABC Rocketman Logo Toys adventure DC Comics 71st Emmy Awards a nightmare on elm street Spike Red Carpet 007 Turner Emmy Nominations mockumentary aliens E! The Witch TLC news Apple TV Plus GIFs CW Seed Pride Month NBC SDCC OWN Tomatazos cats blockbuster Year in Review Film Summer 45 TCA Awards Cosplay Dark Horse Comics Vudu nbcuniversal screenings Amazon Prime Christmas Creative Arts Emmys Travel Channel Fall TV dogs dramedy sag awards Rocky Character Guide miniseries batman Valentine's Day talk show VOD ESPN discovery GoT Awards Tour Esquire BAFTA AMC indiana jones facebook Shondaland Discovery Channel HBO criterion south america VICE Polls and Games canceled cancelled TV series Holidays all-time Disney Britbox toy story Photos SXSW comiccon Television Critics Association political drama crime thriller Spring TV CBS All Access emmy awards chucky television blaxploitation Oscars Marvel Television 2017 President latino Disney Plus dark APB TCA Winter 2020 MSNBC Tubi Election thriller rotten comics teaser foreign TCA Emmys sports concert directors Netflix Christmas movies serial killer unscripted Infographic science fiction TV Land singing competition Freeform christmas movies hist TBS FX docudrama adaptation Grammys stoner YouTube Premium San Diego Comic-Con Kids & Family Animation Star Trek Ellie Kemper scary movies robots 24 frames Peacock Lucasfilm Pixar children's TV universal monsters Marvel Women's History Month Lifetime Christmas movies TNT OneApp free movies biography Pop TV Country 2019 20th Century Fox boxoffice Marathons diversity Baby Yoda Cartoon Network halloween Musical HBO Max 21st Century Fox National Geographic 2020 stand-up comedy USA Network Television Academy green book Pirates American Society of Cinematographers Premiere Dates Musicals spain critics 2015 The Arrangement spider-man reviews technology Mindy Kaling crossover Binge Guide transformers IFC Nickelodeon Watching Series Horror The Purge Trailer revenge finale Sundance RT21 sequels spanish language Thanksgiving 4/20 disaster harry potter Winter TV social media BET Awards Endgame X-Men war cancelled TV shows Writers Guild of America best Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt name the review sitcom video Turner Classic Movies versus Comedy Central slashers Star Wars Tarantino Amazon game show Syfy independent Apple TV+ Elton John HBO Go Lifetime joker anthology Comic Book dragons elevated horror cops comic Adult Swim Marvel Studios ratings mission: impossible dc Reality Competition Best and Worst jamie lee curtis Comedy Fox News series Academy Awards TV ABC Family festivals BBC America Arrowverse theme song what to watch Video Games