Greg Daniels has mastered the sitcom. The former writer of King of the Hill brought The Office to the United States and co-created Parks & Recreation. Now, Daniels has teamed up with Steve Carell once more for another workplace comedy, Space Force, which centres on the latest wing of the military. While the upcoming Netflix series may have the same creative team as The Office, you shouldn't expect a rehash.
"I was excited to do something a little more ambitious and to up my filmmaking game a bit," Daniels tells GamesRadar+. Space Force certainly looks different to Daniels' past achievements, losing the faux documentary style in favour of traditional cinematic filmmaking – a choice that was driven by the themes of space exploration.
"The idea of starting a new branch of the military is so giant in scope," he says. "When you're doing just a 10-episode season for a streaming platform, you get this feeling of: 'I want everything to really sparkle. I only have 10 episodes for all the work that we're putting into it for two years. Let's really make them as great as you can.' Netflix was really on board for making it a really high-end show."
The streaming service was instrumental in bringing Space Force to fruition. Netflix didn't just provide the budget, but the idea too. As Daniels tells it, Carell had a meeting with Netflix executive Blair Fetter, who had recently seen the very real announcement of a United States Space Force. Fetter opined to Carell that they should make a show about the new military branch. "Steve called me and said, 'I've got two words for you: Space Force,'" says Daniels. "I had some other scraps of ideas, and I threw them out the window. I was like, 'Yeah, that's terrific. That sounds hilarious.'"
Two words: Space Force
Work quickly started on the series, with the deal making news in Hollywood trade publications. So fast was the turn around that some of the potential cast members who received early scripts were not aware of Space Force being a very real thing. For instance, Friends actress Lisa Kudrow has said that the pages landed on her desk before news of Donald Trump's plans reached her.
The brisk speed at which Space Force was being made also led to a very surreal situation, as Ben Schwartz – who portrays Space Force's social media guru – explains: "Slowly, as we were filming, more and more things kept getting revealed from the actual Space Force. So it's a crazy thing where, in real time, so many things were revealing themselves that we'd already filmed."
Research was tricky for the writers and actors. For instance, there's one ongoing joke in the series about how the Space Force uniforms are going to look and who would design them. A few months after filming, the real uniforms were revealed. "We finished shooting last year – and then, at the beginning of this year, the real Space Force started rolling out with new uniforms, and announcing the new recruits," says Jimmy O. Yang, best known for his role in Silicon Valley and who plays a scientist on Space Force. "So I started doing new research – in hope that, if we get a second season, I would know what's going on in the real Space Force. But the first season was up to the writers' imagination."
Following the initial Space Force pitch came the idea for Carell's character General Mark R. Naird, a man not exactly a universe away from The Office's Michael Scott. Naird's the tough-talking, sometimes-foolish leader of Space Force who sings to himself as a coping mechanism. There's a loveable, fallible arrogance to him.
"What we were really responding to was the notion of this man who is a military person of integrity who had climbed up the ranks, and was looking forward to taking over the Air Force, and then gets given this super-implausible goal of boots on the Moon by 2024," says Daniels. "And he's got to navigate this path through all these politicians who don't really understand how to achieve this, and all the scientists who do understand it and are worried, and then the media."
From there came the tricky task of writing a series based on just two words: Space Force. While the premise is intrinsically funny and ripe for mockery, the difficulty came in trying to strike a balance between being heavy-handedly harsh on POTUS's idea and being respectful of the military. "The harder part for this was doing justice to the positive aspects of it," Daniels says. "You know, the exploration of space in US history was one of our best moments. Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon and saying, 'One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind' – it was so inspirational. People in America, when they think about going to space again, there's a lot of optimism involved."
"So the trick in terms of the tone was: how do you get comedy, but have it be the kind of comedy that's not mockery? That's not mean-spirited? That is sort of a character comedy where the people involved are trying their best, and trying to achieve something pretty cool, but you're still making fun of all the difficulties they're going through? That was the trick for us."
“The Traveling Wilburys of TV”
Once the scripts were sent out, an all-star cast was brought together, including some of the best sitcom actors around ("It's the Traveling Wilburys of TV shows," jokes Daniels). Alongside Carell, Schwartz, and Kudrow, there's John Malkovich, Kaitlin Olson, Jane Lynch, Patrick Warburton, and the late Fred Willard in his final role. Watching Space Force, there's a real sense that the general atmosphere on set was fun for everyone involved.
"Everyone's pretty ego-free, which was delightful," says Tawny Newsome, who plays a Space Force helicopter pilot. As a result, there was room for some improvisation. "The writers wanted our input," she says. "However, there were just physical impediments. Because, I'm sitting there, trying to decide what will be a hilarious jab to shout out, and there are two Army tanks rolling towards me and 200 background actors in full uniform. So sometimes it's like: 'Just spit out the ones they wrote, Tawny. It'll be better for everybody.'"
Carell, though, was the leader of the group. "Steve Carell is an incredible leader," says Diana Silvers, Naird's daughter on the show, "and he's an extremely respectful and kind person, as with pretty much every single person on set. The leader sets the example and Steve is really, really, really good at setting a really good example. So it was a really easy set to be on. I learned a lot from everyone around me."
As for a second season, the cast are hopeful. "I'm just grateful that I had the opportunity to work with Steve Carell, and I hope I get to continue working with him," says Silvers. "I hope we go back and continue working on the show." Well, The Office went for nine seasons – why not Space Force?
Space Force reaches Netflix on Friday, 29 May