Space Force, the Netflix show, is not about Space Force, the real-life sixth branch of the armed forces. Well, not exactly. The comedy, which reunites showrunner Greg Daniels with his The Office star Steve Carell, tracks the early days of the nascent Space Force as it tries, with mixed success, to get boots on the moon and militarize space. There's a Twitter-happy president expecting huge results, and some very familiar-seeming members of Congress wanting to hold the Space Force accountable. But Space Force is not a direct parody of the real entity, which was officially created late last year.
"It's really a parallel universe," Daniels tells SYFY WIRE. "We're sort of creating this imaginative comedy show where we're just doing our version of Space Force."
"There are jokes about politicians, and it's important to be able to laugh at the leaders in a democracy," Daniels adds, although it's important to note that President Donald Trump is never explicitly named. "But it's not like a late-night show. It's not a mean-spirited show. It's sort of taking a long view. We're not just hitting this joke and then tomorrow we'll do a joke about something else. Whatever's in the news that day."
It's almost a coincidence that Space Force is premiering on Netflix just as the real Space Force is just getting off the ground, so to speak. The idea, Daniels recalls, came from Netflix, which pitched it in a meeting with Carell, who then brought it to Daniels. This was back when Trump was just talking about maybe, one day, making Space Force a reality. In fact, Netflix gave the series the green light in January 2019, just under a year before the Space Force was officially founded.
So, rather than make a one-to-one comparison with the real Space Force, Daniels and Carell created their own version.
"It's a way to do a military show that hasn't been done," Daniels says, noting that while the stakes are certainly much higher than something like The Office, which was about selling paper, Space Force is "still a character comedy." Carell's character, General Mark Naird, is a dedicated Air Force veteran who is not exactly qualified to head up the newly launched (and largely mocked) Space Force. It's largely through interactions between Naird and his chief scientist, Dr. Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich), that Space Force tackles the big question underneath all that character comedy: Is militarizing space a good idea?
Daniels looks back at the Space Race and mankind's first "giant leap" and can't help but feel a little "wistful" about an era when space exploration was more cooperative and scientific rather than nationalistic and militarized. Mallory and Naird regularly butt heads; the scientist thinks their mission is an affront to science, while Naird thinks Mallory is being naive about the threats they face.
"Both those ideas have a lot of validity, and I don't think the show needs to tell you what to think," Daniels says, adding that his own view on the necessity of a Space Force changed while doing research for the show. During a meeting with SpaceX, he recalls hearing SpaceX engineers talk about how they saw a need for security for all of the things they were putting up in orbit.
"You realize, 'Oh, OK, this is a sensible reaction to the way the world is going,'" Daniels says.
As for where the real Space Force is going, it remains to be seen how much the real deal will end up resembling the Netflix version.
"It is kind of funny to see," Daniels says. "Like, we had camouflage fatigues and they put out camouflage fatigues. We had a flag and they put out a flag."
Susie Mancini, Space Force's set director, tells SYFY WIRE just how much effort they put into their version of the Space Force flag.
"They showed [the real] flag, which didn't make me feel bad about our flag at all, if I can be honest," Mancini says with a laugh, recalling how she spent literally months studying existing armed forces seals to extrapolate unique design elements for her carefully constructed emblem. "I feel like the real Space Force flag — it's a great flag — but it's really, really similar to Star Trek."'
"I feel like we spent more time designing the logo than they did, but that's just me," she adds.
A little friendly design competitiveness aside, Space Force isn't trying to look down on the real Space Force, although your mileage may vary on whether this first season should have been more pointed. Daniels compares it to older military comedies like Sgt. Bilko and Gomer Pyle, saying he hopes military audiences will see that the show is "acknowledging the absurdities and the frustrations that they go through and see them being portrayed with love and respect."
For actors like Ben Schwartz, who plays Space Force's insufferable social media manager, F. Tony Scarapiducci, the overlap between reality and fiction is a little more personal.
"When we wrapped, someone said, 'You know, someone has your job, right? Like, there is a social media manager of the actual Space Force,'" he tells SYFY WIRE. "I hadn't even thought about that yet, so I was like, 'Oh my God.' But I'm not poking fun at the actual human being above the job there, but rather just the idea of what [the job] represented months and months ago when they announced the show."