The United States Space Force can’t catch a break. The newest branch of the American military, first championed by President Donald Trump two years ago, tried to generate some serious headlines this month with its first recruiting commercial, an otherworldly 30-second spot summoning volunteers “to plan for the possible while it’s still impossible.”
Instead, it was ambushed by the trailer for Steve Carell’s much-awaited Netflix series “Space Force,” which came out just hours earlier (the recruiting ad racked up 17,000 likes on Twitter compared with the trailer’s 48,000).
In a country stuck at home watching TV, starved for new content, the absurd comedy is one of the more exciting cultural events of the season, a “The Office”-style lampooning stuffed with big names—Carell, Lisa Kudrow, John Malkovich, Jane Lynch, Noah Emmerich and Jimmy O. Yang of “Silicon Valley.” It’s fair to say that the first new military branch in 73 years is at serious risk of being eclipsed entirely by a workplace parody.
It might seem like the real Space Force, which has already been the target of more than its share of memes and jokes, would groan and dismiss it, but no: The show is already the watercooler chatter of the year among Pentagon brass and at the far-flung bases where the real Space Force is being carved out of the Air Force. Watch parties are being planned, and the real head of the Space Force recently even had some advice for the show, mainly that Carell should get a haircut.
“The Office” was known for lacerating humor, its knives perfectly sharpened around the absurdities of daily work life, bumbling management and awkward co-workers. When it comes to a newborn military branch, how deep can a parody cut? Based on the first season of 10 episodes, which POLITICO binged-watched in advance of the May 29 release, the show is goofy, funny, wildly unrealistic in some ways—and also gets some big stuff totally right.
If you’ve followed the growing pains of the real Space Force, particularly the anxieties surrounding its relationship to Trump, it’s clear the new show is dialed in to some of the biggest worries about how it will turn out. So if you want to be a really informed viewer—or just wonder how close to the real thing this is—here’s your guide to why “Space Force” is stressing out (but also riveting) the real Space Force. (NO SPOILERS!)