The Pitch: The original pitch was simple: In 2019, the 45th President of the United States announced a plan for a Space Force branch of the U.S. military. To Steve Carell and Greg Daniels (who previously worked together on The Office), that sounded pretty ridiculous, so they successfully pitched Netflix on a satirical version of what such a “space force” would look like, with Carell as the general in charge.
Unfortunately, Season 1 of Netflix’s Space Force… didn’t quite work. Despite the assembly of a surprise-packed ensemble, including awkward comedy G.O.A.T. Carell, human live wire Ben Schwartz, secret MVP Tawny Newsome, and wild card John Malkovich, there was something just off in how the writing and acting and directing jelled together — and to the credit of Carell and Daniels, they noticed.
Thus, being lucky enough to return for a second season, premiering Friday, February 18th, they made some changes, including a shift from the first season’s more cinematic style to something more conventional, and a greater emphasis on the comedy. Did that make things better? The answer is a pretty confident yes, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t some issues with these seven episodes.
When Last We Left Our Heroes… A ragtag Space Force mission to the moon had just gone bad, as the Americans attempted to sabotage the Chinese forces on the surface, only to find that their own base had been crippled. A dire situation indeed, leaving astronaut Angela (Newsome) and her team in space, in dire peril. That’s where things left off at the end of Season 1, but the first indication that Season 2’s going to take a different path is that the writers very efficiently wrap that cliffhanger up.
While the events of the moon calamity do reverberate throughout the season, especially Angela’s reaction to the experience, pretty much all of the central action this season is, in fact, Earth-based, with the focus turning towards how Space Force is going to operate under a new political administration, with a new minuscule budget.
Leaning hard into the workplace comedy model works to the show’s advantage, with Office director Ken Kwapis delivering clear sharp bits and set-pieces — but not without some emotional undercurrents. The result is a sense that, as ridiculous as events sometimes get, things are… perhaps not more grounded (pardon the pun) but a great deal more emotionally authentic than Season 1.
(Plus, there’s a really, really good bit involving Wilco. More Wilco comedy, please and thank you.)
Improvements Ensemble-Wide: As the team fights against budget cuts while tackling diplomatic missions and trying to do some science, there continue to be strong character-driven stories: Angela dealing with both PTSD and a complicated new relationship with Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang), Mark’s daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) struggling to figure out her place in the world.
A good microcosm for the way things have changed with Space Force is that Schwartz’s character, F. Tony Scarapiducci, was originally a kinda nasty riff on Anthony Scaramucci, the White House Communications Director who lasted exactly 10 days in that job during the summer of 2017. Perhaps because, thanks to the passing of time, no one actually remembers who the hell Scaramucci is anymore, in Season 2 the character of Tony is now much more a vessel for Schwartz to be Schwartz at his most kinetic and charming — a blessing for us all.
It’s still so strange how Carell is once again the Achilles’ heel of the ensemble — this shouldn’t be the case, because after all it’s Steve Carell. This season, General Naird has relaxed a bit more, with the writers (including Carell, who scripted the first episode of Season 2) finding ways to create comedy bits that work for his character. But it’s hard to escape the fact that Carell wears Naird like a straight-jacket at times; it’s just not an ideal fit between actor and character.
Yet, like so many other aspects of the show, Naird’s path in Season 2 is a distinct improvement over Season 1. This all coalesces into the most significant issue with Season 2: There isn’t quite enough of it. It’s not just that there are only seven episodes (as opposed to the 10 episodes of Season 1), but that there’s a rushed feeling to the last episode or two, the sense that things are ending just as they’re getting good.
The Verdict: Ultimately, the very best thing that could have happened to Space Force was a change in political administrations, because maybe it wasn’t the camera choices that made Season 1 of Space Force weak; maybe the problem with this show was, in the long run, the fact that it was born out of a desire to poke fun at one of the sillier moments of a both very silly and also very scary and depressing time in American history.
Much Trump-era political comedy seems drawn from the very specific genre of “you gotta laugh or you’ll cry,” a flavor of humor you can only ever tolerate for so long. By shedding that sensibility and refocusing on its own unique humor, Space Force did the most valuable thing it could: Make us want more. Fingers crossed for a third season, now that the show has found the groove it was looking for.
Where to Watch: Space Force Season 2 blasts off Friday, February 18th on Netflix.