Netflix Review – Space Force: It’s Out Of This World… Okay?

Steve Carrell stars as the first commander of the US Space Force.

SUMMARY

Four-star General Mark Naird (Steve Carell) is appointed by the President to be the first head of Space Force, a newly-created branch of the military. His only directive is that he is supposed to have “boots on the moon” in the near future. With that in mind, Naird moves his family, including his daughter Erin (Diana Silvers) and his wife Maggie (Lisa Kudrow) to Colorado. A year later, Naird and his chief scientist Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich) are ready to finally start launching stuff into space, but it turns out that rocket science is… well, rocket science. Despite the usual government incompetence, Naird’s team, including Captain Angela Ali (Tawny Newsome), scientist Dr. Chan Kaifang (Jimmy O. Yang),  and his social media advisor F. Tony Scarapiducci (Ben Schwartz) needs to shoot for the moon.

My god, so much talent in this image.

END SUMMARY

I admit that I had low expectations of this show, because almost any media that is based on something topical like this is likely to be rushed. Remember that show based on the Geico cavemen? You probably don’t, because it only aired six times and the ratings on it dropped so fast that it dented the floor of the ABC building, but that WAS a thing. However, since I honestly think Steve Carrell could read the phone book in a way that would make me laugh, I gave it a shot. 

So many medals.

This show is extremely hit-and-miss. Some of the jokes and performances are laugh-out-loud funny, particularly some of the scenes with John Malkovich. However, those scenes are often punctuated with long bouts of unfunny attempts to take shots at the current state of America. I get why they wanted to do them, but that kind of humor ages poorly and really doesn’t lend itself to scripted comedy that well, outside of topical shows like SNL or late-night TV. Saying “haha, this politician we’re parodying is a dick” isn’t a joke in itself, and the show tends to just say that and then not actually come up with a real joke. The best scenes are the ones that are based around the actual difficulties related to getting people into space or about the difficulties of dealing with how insane politics can be, not the ones where you can feel the screenwriters shouting “see, we made the female representative AYC, like AOC, get it?” 

Oh look, she’s holding an orange and asking angry questions. Funny!

However, since this is Netflix, the show probably does a great job of being really easy to follow and binge while also posting on Instagram or browsing a blog weighing the merits of various taco chains. The leads are all solid, there are a few funny running gags, there’s a monkey at one point, and some of the recurring actors, like Fred Willard (R.I.P. you funny genius), Jane Lynch, Patrick Warburton, or Kaitlin Olson manage to take even some mediocre lines and turn them into solid gold because they can go all-out. 

This isn’t from the show. I just really miss Fred Willard.

Overall, I would recommend not putting it on top of your list of must-see-TV, but if you just want something in the background, it’s a good choice. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Netflix Review – A Series of Unfortunate Events (Spoiler-Free)

Netflix spent three seasons adapting one of the most dark and interesting children’s series ever written.

SUMMARY

A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the lives of the three Baudelaire Orphans: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny (Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes, Presley Smith/Tara Strong). Violet is a brilliant inventor and engineer, Klaus is a polymath with a love of reading, and Sunny… is a baby that bites things hard. After their parents are killed in a fire, the three are sent to live with their distant relative, the evil Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), a terrible actor who would never have been allowed to play Doogie Howser. Throughout the series, the Baudelaires try to find a place to hide safely from Count Olaf and his troupe of evil actors while making their way through the macabre world in which the series is set. All of the events are narrated from the future by Lemony Snicket (Patrick Warburton).

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Real talk: Why is it so hard to get cast photos lately?

END SUMMARY

The series is basically divided into two types of adventures: Either the children are taken in by an eccentric/flat-out insane caretaker and attacked by a disguised Olaf or they’re on the run from Olaf and forced to hide in some insane location. The key is that nothing in this world quite operates on real logic, instead operating on the principle that basically everyone is off-kilter and, in most cases, anachronistic. The main characters are often the only sane people within any situation, pointing out that what most of the supporting characters are doing is either stupid or crazy, but, being children, they’re constantly ignored.

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Running gag is that these disguises actually fool people.

The setting for the series is intensely gothic, much in the style of Tim Burton or Barry Sonnenfeld… but more the latter because he’s the one that produces the show. Colors are largely muted, buildings tend to be in the gothic style, and the music often is best described as “eerie as hell.” The time-period for the series is completely nonsensical, with black-and-white movies and telegraph lines being commonplace, while also having jokes about streaming internet services.

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Every building in the show was designed by Edgar Allen Poe.

The tone is one of the darkest forms of comedy that you can put in a show ostensibly for children. People die frequently in this show, often in horrifying ways, and yet the spin on their deaths is usually very comical, because most of the characters refuse to react to death rationally. It also helps that Lemony Snicket is constantly adding levity and sarcasm into the series by addressing the audience directly with some off-the-cuff and off-the-wall observation. Since Snicket’s observations were one of the signature elements of the book series, it’s nice that they managed to work it into the show fairly organically.

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He’s basically riffing on his own show.

The acting in the show is phenomenal, although the way that the dialogue is presented will turn some people off. Neil Patrick Harris is a standout, matching Jim Carrey’s fabulous performance from the film adaptation, while still managing not to duplicate it too much. Harris sings the great theme song to the series “Look Away” which he sings in a different voice whenever he portrays a character in the episode, with the lyrics changing from book to book. They also find some excuses for Harris to let out his broadway side, something that, while it does make it harder to believe Olaf is a terrible actor, is too entertaining to pass up.

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Out-of-Character? A little. Out-Freaking-Standing? Definitely.

The downsides, if they are downsides, of the show are that, because of the nature of the medium, there are fewer of the wonderful ambiguities and hidden messages that permeated the books. Things that in the book series were left up to the reader to deduce are almost all made explicit. Additionally, some of the added scenes and characters are actually more positive than the rest of the tone of the show, possibly because it’s just so depressing to watch something that’s absurdist and, largely, hopeless. Frankly, it didn’t bother me, but I have heard a few fans of the books complaining.

However, there are two things this show does differently than most series that I really hope lead to its success. First, the villains are the ones shunning knowledge, while the heroes are the ones who seek it. A problem with the recurring trope of a criminal mastermind is that you have to make the villain the smart one, which often results in them making the hero a brawny dumbass. Think Lex Luthor versus Superman or Loki versus Thor (though neither Superman nor Thor are stupid, they’re not as smart as their opponents). This show 100% goes the other way, saying that the act of reading, learning, and exploring inherently makes someone more empathetic and therefore more ethical. Btw, studies suggest that this is generally true, reading makes you more empathetic (though not always as everyone thinks).

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Scientist bad. Big Muscled Guy good. 

Second, the show ends up pointing out one of the most difficult truths in the world: People aren’t all good or all bad. People are almost all morally ambiguous, falling somewhere on the scale between “hero” and “villain” or, within the series, between “volunteer” and “villain.” Everyone tends to think they’re a hero of their own story, but that’s likely the product of their own moral relativism: we define good as what we do, rather than defining good as good and then doing it. The show does a great job of exploring this concept.

Overall, I loved this series and I’m sad that it’s over. It’s only 25 episodes, total, so you should take a weekend or a week to watch it.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.