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SYFY WIRE Fred Armisen

John C. Reilly reveals Moonbase 8 started as a riff on horror classic The Thing

By Tara Bennett
Moonbase 8

The premiere of Showtime's original comedy Moonbase 8, created by Jonathan Krisel and series stars Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, and John C. Reilly, is go for launch on Showtime early next month. To celebrate the impending Nov. 8 premiere, the quartet participated in a virtual Q&A with actual astronaut Mike Massimino, swapping real-life and pretend space stories. In fact, it became quite apparent that the comedians are great big nerds for all things NASA as they grilled Massimino for a half hour about everything from space toilets to how astronauts avoind punching one another after all that confinement together.

The series itself is about three astronauts training at NASA’s Moon Base Simulator, MOONBASE 8, with the goal of qualifying for an actual lunar mission. Heidecker, who plays Rook, admitted that all three actors (who are longtime friends and collaborators) are hardcore “space nerds” and the series is the perfect union of their talents and interest.

Director/writer Krisel shared that the original series idea stemmed from working with Armisen on an episode of Portlandia. “We were enjoying the joyfulness and silliness between takes and I thought, ‘Why don’t [we] try to do something together?’”

After some brainstorming over the quartet's group text, Reilly took the reins of developing it into more. “I rooted through old ideas, one which was for a horror movie: people on a remote base with many nights of isolation, like The Thing.” Around that time, they also found out about the real simulated bases located all over the U.S. used for mission training purposes and, voila, the Moonbase 8 series concept coalesced.

The comedians admitted that they didn’t do any kind of boot camp to prep for the series, but this year's 2020 lockdown due to COVID-19 gave them all a new appreciation for what Massimino and his fellow peers have to endure to get to space, and then exist up there in isolation. Reilly offered, “When working with three other people, you have to take people’s feelings into account and give their ideas a try. I found being at home in quarantine for the pandemic, I was almost being performative with politeness because things can go so bad so quickly. Before you might have taken things for granted,” he laughed about his new skills as a behavioral peacekeeper.

Massimino agreed and said when it comes to astronauts in close spaces, “Sheltering in space is like sheltering in place.” He clarified that whether it’s on a space shuttle or at the International Space Station, he’s found his peers really shine where laypeople might not. “When you got to space, it brought out the best in everyone. You do cooperate and are respectful.”

He added that before arriving in space, he and his teammates often made a point of going on outings or trainings in remote places with extreme weather, to test each other’s weak points. “We’d try to recognize it in each other, when we were lacking sleep, needed to eat, or were dehydrated. We were aware and tried to help each other with it.” In the end, it helped them read each other much better when it counted out in space doing the job.

Moonbase 8 Key Art

The cast asked Massimino to explain other space-centric things like how space toilets really work, and if there’s a smell in space. Massimino gamely detailed the horrors of “Apollo bags” and shared that on the ship, astronauts can smell each other, and scents also stagnate more. “And space smells very metallic. It’s distinct.”

As for Massimino’s assessment of Moonbase 8, he told the comedians that the show actually captures the astronaut sense of humor that drives so many of them in and out of space. He said space-centric comedy like The Simpsons episode “Homer Goes to Space” and Tracy Morgan’s Saturday Night Live skits for Astronaut Jones are quoted often. “I memorized ['Astronaut Jones'] and sang the song for my crew,” he laughed. “Now there’s a whole new age of astronauts to enjoy and poke fun of [space]. It’s a very serious business, but the way you get around it is laughing.”

Moonbase 8 debuts Sunday, Nov. 8, at 11 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.