Netflix’s Space Force is an expensive test of parody in the age of Trump


A new big-budget Netflix comedy sets out to skewer Donald Trump. but does it land enough punches (let alone generate enough laughs)? Daniel Rutledge ain’t convinced.

Remember watching The West Wing back when America had actual presidents in office? What about watching Veep and thinking if only real-life White House buffoonery was that funny? Didn’t it once seem like House of Cards was cartoonishly sinister, rather than quaint and tame compared to reality?

Ahhh, the good old pre-2016 days—they were so cute.

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But here we are, in the twilight of Celebrity Apprentice star Donald Trump’s first term posing as the president of the USA and with a brand new Netflix show based on one small part of it. Although it sounds like a joke, Space Force is actually real and hoping to send big strong boys with guns into space to go shooty bang bang against any mean aliens or bad guys up there.

Remember when little Donald got to play in that big truck and pretended to honk its horn? Beep beep! Imagine when he gets to play in a space ship with machine guns attached to it in front of cameras, he’ll look so cool!

There’s definitely the potential for a great comedy show in the real life United States Space Force. Netflix saw that and swooped, throwing an obscenely large budget at it, lavishly producing Space Force the show with top-of-the-line visual effects and big, elaborate sets. It’s made by the creator of the US version of The Office and its lead star, who is also the lead star here, supported by one of the lead stars of Friends, one of the supporting actors of Booksmart and John fucking Malkovich.

And it’s an utterly average comedy show.

It’s one of those shows that’s only just mildly amusing, occasionally bringing on a chuckle but also causing a fair few groans. Unqualified dimwits making endless mistakes with their misplaced huge responsibility is really very well-trodden material at this point, with some of the greatest TV comedies of our time showing everyone how to do it. Space Force shows how not to do it.

It’s not “shockingly bad” as the Daily Beast’s reviewer claimed, nor is it a “waste of space” like Consequence of Sound reckoned. But it definitely ain’t great.

If you’re a huge Steve Carell fan and particularly loved his shtick in The Office, you’ll like this more than most people. There’s definitely a feel of continuing what that show had going for it, but despite the enormous budget, there’s also a feel of auto-piloting through this comedy. Some of the jokes go for surprisingly low-hanging fruit—like the centrepiece of the second episode, which is a series of chimpanzee-get-banana gags.

The Trump era has thrown up a lot of challenges up for screen entertainment. It’s extremely hard to effectively parody a man who makes several should-be career-ending gaffes on any given day, while the insanely blatant corruption and exploitation of his position would all be considered way to over-the-top in a political thriller. On a serious note, documentarians have no hope of cataloguing all of his wrongdoing in features that take years to produce—it’s nigh impossible for even the world’s most well-staffed breaking news operations.

Probably wisely, Space Force doesn’t have an Alec Baldwin-style Trump character. It doesn’t even mention the orange bone spurs sufferer by name, but it certainly references his ways. Foreign policy is conducted by Twitter, for example, and there’s ongoing gags about Russian influence on the White House. The character of Yuri ‘Bobby’ Telatovich, an overt Putin/Trump plant in the upper echelons of the Space Force, is one of the funnier bits of the show—so long as you can laugh at the real life Putin/Trump collusion that so far hasn’t been met with any meaningful consequences.

Trump’s not the only modern figure to have fun poked in his direction, either—there’s a reference to a Tesla in orbit as one of four bits of “space junk”, along with three bags of garbage. That’s another good bit, actually. That Elon Musk is such a knucklehead, eh!

There’s enough of those mildly good bits for this to be worth a look, if you want to get into a show that’s about as easy a watch as they come. Like, if you want to half-watch a few half-hour episodes while also using your phone or folding the laundry or whatever, occasionally looking up to have a giggle, this’ll do the trick.

But it could have been so, so much more. Not only due to the talent and budget thrown at it, but the real-life inspiration, too. Sure, Space Force is not attempting to fully parody Trump or his administration, but it is a satire of the Trump era and it’s just not funny enough, nor does it have any bite.

The mediocrity of it cruelly rubs salt in the wound that is the delay of Succession‘s third season.