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Space Force Review: Netflix’s Toothless Comedy Couldn’t Arrive at a Worse Time

Greg Daniels and Steve Carell reunite for one of 2020’s biggest comedic misfires.

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Space Force

Space Force, a comedy engineered from our government’s current mission of establishing a sixth, space-focused arm of the military, presents itself as a mix of co-creator Greg Daniel’s previous series; the interpersonal follies of The Office, the bumbling absurdity of Parks and Recreation‘s structures of power, and the modernity of Upload, all built on the foundation of hesitant optimism his work has embodied since the early days of King of the Hill. Yet, Space Force arrives in a very different sociopolitical climate than his previous trio of shows exploring Americana have; in the Daniels-verse, government incompetence and bloat is but a platform for hilarity, and regressive leaders with shitty morals are forgiven because of their “good hearts”. What it leads to, is one of the more infuriating misfires of the year, a hollow, ignorant show that is not only wildly unfunny, but actively harmful in how it portrays its characters – and more importantly, how it reflects the both sides-ism permeating mainstream political fiction.

From its empty characters and nondescript setting, to its refusal to penetrate the idiotic surface of its bumbling, bone-headed protagonist, Space Force‘s hands-off approach to drawing real-life parallels is disturbingly empty.

And yes, all of this can be said without directly examining Space Force‘s individual points of view on politics; it wants to be able to poke fun at the current president, but do so in a way that won’t piss off Republican Netflix subscribers. To do so, it has to cater to empty chairs: scenes of characters making jokes about the unnamed president’s latest Twitter storm, butt up against scenes like Vanessa Hudgen’s embarrassingly terrible “impersonation” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (it’s so bad it makes SNL‘s recent forays into political humor seem exciting and original by comparison).

Space Force

It also has to cater to its main character, Carell’s Mark Naird, a character who can only be described as an “absolute shithead”. The balance Veep found with its main character was a tough one – and honestly, one the writers struggled to manage from episode to episode; after all, to effectively satire the present, you’ve got to commit to going down some dark, divisive roads. Veep often steered directly into that, for better or worse: Space Force‘s refusal to do so with Naird, to treat him with kid gloves by treating the humanity and conscience he displays for the last thirty seconds of each episode as his defining traits.

I’m sure dozens of reviews will compare Michael Scott to Mark Naird; to do so would be a foolish error, given how those two shows approached executive dysfunction. For The Office, it brilliantly displayed, with characters like Michael and David, the corruption of having enough power not to give a shit; if Michael Scott had any redeeming quality, it was his willingness to sacrifice his power to be loved by his colleagues. Mark Naird has none of these qualities, and Space Force‘s establishment-friendly message – the one that says even the most incompetent people can do good things, which makes them ok! – is markedly different than those Daniels embraced nearly two decades ago (it’s not surprising: after all, Leslie Knope now happily works for Trump’s Interior Department, lest we forget).

Space Force

But Space Force has nothing to say about the very real-world story it wants to satirize (in fact, the real world story the entire premise is built on); and, where we are right now, it feels downright destructive to watch a show make half-assed jokes about how the government willingly kills, surveil, and wastes the hard-earned capital of its people, all in the name of “progress”. Sure, Space Force has its fun (with its male characters, at least: one could write pages about the absolute lack of female presence on this series), with plots about the Air Force and Space Force playing pretend war games, or when Naird sends a monkey into space to fix the international space station. But these breezy, weightless plots aren’t backed up with anything of import or depth: from its characters and nondescript setting, to its refusal to penetrate the idiotic surface of its bumbling, bone-headed protagonist, Space Force‘s hands-off approach to drawing real-life parallels is disturbingly empty.

(Did I mention Lisa Kudrow plays his estranged wife, thrown in prison during a time skip for reasons that are never even remotely explained? It is one of the most “what the actual fuck were they thinking” moments of 2020).

Space Force

It’s really too bad, because there is potential for something much more interesting, a show focused more on John Malkovich’s Dr. Adrian Mallory, and Tawny Newsome’s Angela Ali. Of all the characters on Space Force (a cast that includes Noah Emmerich and Ben Schwartz in equally unfunny, annoying roles), Dr. Mallory and Angela offer the most promise as ensemble members to build around. As is often the case, Malkovich brings his own strange energy to the project, a Dr. Strangelove-lite whose analytical approach to life often puts him at odds with Mark (in the dumbest version of the “faith vs. science” debate – this show gives them a lot of banter together, and almost none of it works).

Newsome’s Angela, Naird’s overqualified personal pilot, also offers an interesting take on the world around her; smarter than her boss, and more qualified and intelligent than her inferiors, Angela feels like the real victim of a system built on white male privilege and misguided intentions, a much more compelling POV character than the entitled bullshit Mark Naird injects into every single episode.

Space Force couldn’t have come at a worse time; while the President tweets about letting the National Guard shoot American citizens, the arrival of a show trying to sitcom-ize the incompetence of a government that’s let 100,000 people die and the same few people get richer just feels lifeless, especially in comparison to braver, funnier series like Superstore. Space Force just wants to make jokes and hurt nobody’s feelings, pulling freely from the events in our reality, without having to take ownership or investment in any of it. There’s no joy in that for an audience, or humor to be found – had Space Force really committed to the black comedy behind its premise, it could be one of the most illuminating shows on TV. Instead, it’s just another tasteless side dish in the corporate buffet of bullshit that is life in 2020, an unsettling reminder of the empty platitudes and willful, well-educated parade of ignorance and privilege that got us here.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

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The Boys Season 2 Episode 3 Review: “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men”

The Boys’ marks an improvement and pays big dividends in an explosive, violently revealing hour.

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The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

Half bottle episode and half coming out party, “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” is a sneaky little showcase for The Boys, and just how big its world’s suddenly gotten in season two. Though ostensibly an episode designed around two events – the boys getting stuck on the boat, and Stormfront revealing her inner racist sociopath – “Over the Hill” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion. With a nimble script and a game group of performers, The Boys‘ second season is turning out to be a distinct pleasure – albeit one heading down a gruesome, dark path I sure hope it’s capable of navigating.

“Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” navigates a number of brewing conflicts in fascinating ways, building and building until the violent explosion at the episode’s conclusion.

It does take a little while for “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” to get going; beginning three miles offshore with The Boys and the reunited super-siblings, the first quarter feels like it’s simply restating the stakes. It’s a nimble trick, though; led by Kimiko and Kenji, The Boys begins to feel like it is approaching a true moral quandary for the group. Which door descending into hell will they choose?

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

While The Boys often likes to posture its presenting characters with complex dilemmas, the show’s unnerving nihilism often upends any sort of nuance it looks for in its debates around “necessary” violence. Here, Kimiko’s presence throws a fascinating wrench into the proceedings; with most of the group’s members clinging to whatever mirage of family they have left (save for Hughie, who has… forgotten his dad exists?), even Butcher can’t deny having conflicting feelings about what to do with Kenji, and the deal that’s been offered to him if he turns him in.

Elsewhere, “Over the Hill” throws the brazen personalities of The Seven into their own little blenders, as Stormfront begins to sow discord through Vought, and abuse her powers to casually murder a lot of people – nearly all of them minorities, in a way that feels like an explosion of character, rather than an unpeeling of some complicated identity. Stormfront simply doesn’t give a fuck; and with her supernatural ability to manipulate feminist views (her speech to the reporters is magnificent, both in how it develops Stormfront’s character and nods to the simplistic ways in which the evilest people in society disguise themselves among the “good”).

While she’s kicking up tornadoes and electrocuting everyone that gets in her way, characters like The Deep and Homelander continue to benefit from the much-improved writing of season two. The show is still struggling to make Becca something more than the Ultimate Mother Protector trope, but Homelander’s warped sense of responsibility to his son is interesting, surely a bad sign for the upbringing of this world’s Superboy (will he also don a cool leather jacket and weird cyberpunk sunglasses? Who knows!). It’s clearly not going well; even he seems to recognize the danger in bringing his son’s powers to the surface, as its the first time in his life he’s facing a challenge as the world’s strongest hero (that is, until Stormfront doubles that total later in the episode, further frustrating Homelander’s attempts to hold domain over everything in his grasp).

The Boys Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men

It’s not going well for The Deep, either, as his slow descent into cult life is bringing his desperation for acceptance further to the surface. Like with Homelander’s stories, I wish The Deep’s story was a little tighter and more thoughtful (some of the body image stuff seems to be treated trivially, in a way that borders on insensitive and uninformed for the sake of easy jokes), but there’s no denying his character is infinitely more interesting this season, a test case for what a superhero trying to learn their own limits would struggle with. The Deep works best as a pathetic character, but not when it’s a pathetic character The Boys just kick around with bad punchlines; when he’s treated as a byproduct of a deeply flawed human being trying to find a path to good intentions, his fumbles and weak-minded rhetoric is much more amusing – and at times, the tiniest bit empathic (his sadness over Billy’s, well, butchering of his whale buddy was such an earnest, raw and twistedly funny moment).

The Boys has needed to accelerate its internal stakes for a while; the introduction of “super terrorists” to the world by Homelander, and Compound V’s reveal to the public might make the show’s world feel a bit smaller than intended – I think a lot about the “big” fight scenes at the end of Arrow‘s third season, where the ‘entire city’ is fighting, but there’s never more than six people around – The Boys does that on a narrative level sometimes. But as the stories of the show dig a little deeper into its characters – Maeve’s disillusionment, Homelander’s failure to emulate paternal behavior, A-Train’s desperation, it’s beginning to feel like the writers have a deeper understanding of its characters and world, and how to wield its inherent sadistic cynicism to more interesting ends. “Over the Hill With the Swords of a Thousand Men” benefits massively from that, setting up a number of intriguing dominoes for the back half of season two to knock over (in bloody fashion).

Other thoughts/observations:

  • Look, I’m bummed how the Kenji character played out; he was such an interesting character, an examination of everything horrible about what power and war can do to a human being. It’s sad to see The Boys dispose of such an intriguing presence, especially as its a death of a minority character in service of mostly white-related stories – however, with such a hateful, nasty character like Stormfront waiting in the wings, it is easy to see how the writers found their way down that path. (like, she could’ve killed Black Noir and this show would’ve literally lost nothing… just sayin’).
  • Can A-Train just collapse or whatever, so we can get this storyline moving? We’ve been doing this since the second episode!
  • Why haven’t we seen any reaction to Becca seeing Butcher in person at the end of season one? She hasn’t mentioned it or even had a longing look off-screen to violin music.
  • Man, I’m so glad they cast Aya Cash as Stormfront.
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The Best Golden Girl is Sophia Petrillo

Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won.

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Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

A seemingly harmless little old lady with curly white hair, oversized glasses, and an innate ability to tell a great story shows up on her daughter’s doorstep when the retirement home she was put in by said daughter burns down. With a simple, “Hi there,” the world meets Sophia Petrillo. For seven years on NBC’s The Golden Girlsa show about the senior set—Sophia lived with her intelligent and extremely sarcastic divorced daughter Dorothy Zbornak and her two roommates, sexy, eternally horny southern belle Blanche Devereaux and sweet but dim-witted Minnesotan Rose Nylund. Each is memorable in their own way, but it’s Sophia, “feisty, zesty, and full of old-world charm,” that stands out the most.

When TV was full of generic, sweet grandma types, Sophia was anything but. Sure, she looked the part with her bifocals, pearls, and now iconic straw and bamboo-beaded handbag, but Sophia was always trying to make a quick buck. She conned Rose into going into a sandwich-making business that pit them against the mob, faked being paralyzed to try and collect insurance, and constantly “borrowed” money from Dorothy’s purse. Instead of helping Dorothy, Blanche and Rose get out of jail when they are mistaken for hookers (don’t ask, just Youtube it). She stole their tickets to go to a party and meet Burt Reynolds. She also stole Rose’s car, worked at a fast-food restaurant, and won a marathon. Not bad for a woman in her eighties. Sophia had a sharp wit and an acerbic tongue, blaming her stroke for leaving her without the ability to self-censor. She was always ready with a zinger or a comeback, some of which she saved for her very own daughter.

Sophia Petrillo The Golden Girls

Sophia Petrillo is the Secret Star of The Golden Girls

That’s not to say she’s all schemes and insults. Beneath her tough exterior is a kind woman with a big heart who loves her family and friends. Viewers don’t often get to see her softer side, which makes the moments they do seem that much more special. One of the best Sophia episodes showed her reaction to the death of her son, Phil. She put up a wall of anger which Rose was finally able to break down in the final moments of the episode, revealing Sophia’s true feelings of guilt over Phil’s cross-dressing as she bursts into tears. Another favourite was when Dorothy expressed concern about her mother not doing enough with her days. We then get to see exactly what she gets up to sticking up for her friend and causing a scene at the grocery store while claiming to represent a fictional senior citizens union, volunteering at a sick kids hospital and later, conducting a senior citizens jazz band. Meanwhile, Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche do next to nothing except sit around and eat. When she’s asked what she did all day upon her return, she simply says she bought a nectarine, and Dorothy, Rose, and Blanche are none the wiser.

But if Sophia has one claim to fame, it is her colorful old-world tales about Sicily, which often as not, contain a pearl of wisdom or embellishment of some kind. We would have loved to have known her during her “picatta period (a wedge of lemon and a smart answer for everything),” when she was the most beautiful girl at a resort and all the men fought over her (so beautiful, in fact, that she had “a butt you could bounce a quarter off of”). She was also once painted by Picasso and was best friends with Mama Celeste. But I digress. Sophia Petrillo was a legend in her own mind who always had her way and like Mighty Mouse, always won. Her hunches were never wrong, and rarely, if ever did she meet her match. Sophia was, in short, a one-woman show. And thanks to re-runs and fan appreciation, that show will never be gone.

  • Dasilva

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published under our old brand, Sound On Sight.

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

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30 Years Later: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
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