DUBAI: Things are very different from the time that Greg Daniels and Steve Carrell first got together. In 2005, Carrell was auditioning in front of Daniels to see whether he could fill the shoes of Ricky Gervais for an American remake of Gervais’ UK hit “The Office.” Daniels had already written for, or created, classic series such as “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill,” but Carrell was still a respected supporting player, unproven as a leading man. Fifteen years later, Carrell is one of the most venerated leads of his generation in film and television — due in no small part to the magic that the two created on the small screen.
What would bring them back together? As it turns out, all it took was two words — “Space Force.” When US President Donald Trump announced his intention to establish a new division of the American military in 2018, Carrell couldn’t get the name out of his head. He called up his old collaborator Daniels to talk about it.
“There was no show. There was no idea. It was really based on nothing except a name that made everybody laugh,” says Carrell.
The two met up at Carrell’s house to brainstorm whether those two words would be enough for a TV show. What interested them most was imagining the man who would have to lead it. They came up with General Mark Naird — a career Air Force man who was hardened and serious about everything that he did, nothing like Michael Scott in “The Office.”
“We definitely did not want to repeat Michael Scott at all. It’s been at least 12 years since Steve played Michael Scott, and he just physically doesn't look the same. The haircut's different, the mannerisms are different. Michael Scott is an iconic character, but I actually think General Mark Naird has got more Hank Hill from “King of the Hill” in him than Michael Scott,” says Daniels. “Mark’s definitely a stronger character, more used to command, more capable than Michael Scott ever was. His issues are different. Michael would do anything to please others, he would (bend) in the wind in any direction. Mark is very inflexible and it’s hard to change his mind about anything. They're very different people.”
“Space Force,” which launched on Netflix May 29, is a deliberate departure from “The Office” in many ways. It’s not a mockumentary — a style that served Daniels so well in both “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” It’s not about mostly incompetent people who don’t care about their jobs — in fact, it’s the opposite. But like “The Office,” it relies on a strong supporting cast — headlined by Academy Award-nominee John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz and Lisa Kudrow — and is ultimately about what those people create together, rather than just one man’s goals. The comedy, then, comes in watching fiercely smart and talented people try to do something that no one has ever done before: move the military into space.
“Like many people in the world — and (this is) something I think most people can relate to on even a day-to-day basis, even people who are very successful in their field — you just may not be qualified to do what's being asked of you. There is a lot of comedy in that, because there's also a lot of pain in that. Pain and comedy tend to go hand in hand, or at least hand in glove,” says Malkovich, who plays Dr. Adrian Mallory.
In fact, “Space Force” — perhaps contrary to expectations — is a show that affirms the creation of this new military division much more than it discourages it. While it finds much to satirize, it takes the nobility of its characters and what they are trying to achieve seriously, despite the silliness of its premise, ultimately justifying — almost romanticizing — the division’s goals.
“(Naird) makes really good decisions because he understands people and he's a good leader, but he also sometimes steps in it because he oversimplifies things and he doesn't fully understand what's going on around him. He has to try and figure out who's giving him good advice and who isn't. But we gave him a good value system at his center. We wanted to make sure that we were being accurate and more than respectful — I would say complimentary — of the military virtues that Mark Naird holds,” says Daniels.