Karl Puschmann: Comedic star power can’t help Moonbase 8 blast off

OPINION:

It would seem that making a comedy about landing on the moon is a more difficult task than actually landing on the moon. All recent attempts to land some LOLs from the idea of getting boots on the moon or travelling through space have failed to blast off.

I’m not really sure why. It’s a premise ripe with juicy comedic situations and opportunities for mishaps, misunderstandings and mission critical failings so it’s bewildering that it’s yet to be squeezed for maximum hilarity.

Last year’s space-coms, Avenue 5 and Space Force, were both watchable and had their moments but neither were as funny as they should have been.

Admittedly, both were weighted down with sky-high expectations; Avenue 5 was created by sitcom legend Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It and Veep, and was led by the always wonderful Hugh Laurie, while Space Force reunited the American dream team of Greg Daniels, creator of the American adoption of The Office, and comedy superstar Steve Carrell. But even without that extra baggage of expectation they still wouldn’t have had enough oomph to make much of an impact.

But you don’t reach the moon if you stop shooting for the stars and the latest attempt to launch into the comedy stratosphere is Moonbase 8, which is now streaming on Neon. Like last year’s shows itis fuelled by star power, which means it also loads on that same weighty baggage of hope from the audience.

Created by its leads, the great John C. Reilly, sketch comedian Fred Armisen, absurdist Tim Heidecker and director Jonathan Krisel, Moonbase 8 is more grounded than its space-com predecessors. Literally.

The moonbase of the title is more of an earth base being that it’s a Nasa training facility situated in the dusty Arizona desert. The idea is that it simulates what life would be like living on the moon if the astronauts were to be selected to make the journey into space and move into the show’s actual moonbase, which is nearing completion.

For our heroes in Moonbase 8, selection seems unlikely. There’s not much comedy to be wrung from methodical competence so it won’t surprise to learn that they’re a hapless trio. You’ve got Reilly’s cluelessly overconfident leader Cap, Armisen’s nerdily earnest Skip and Heidecker’s man of faith who joined Nasa so he could spread the good word throughout the galaxy.

They may be broad-stroke characters but the actors are so comedically attuned that they’re performed with a fine tip brush that picks out nuance and detail. Their easy chemistry and balletic bumbling make it an easy and enjoyable watch.

But does it make it funny?

Not as much as you’d expect. The titular moonbase isn’t the only thing here that’s grounded, so is the humour and the vibe. It occasionally goes large – an incident involving a scorpion and a space helmet for example – but for the most part it keeps things tight and small.

One episode sees a bout of flu forcing the wannabe spacemen into quarantine, one sees them dealing with the consequences of a water leak and another sees them “making contact” with the rival trainee astronauts of Elon Musk’s SpaceX company after they pitch up nearby.

These could all be played up but here they keep it more subdued. It’s still funny, there’s enough zings and one-liners to go around, but it’s not exactly a laugh riot.

It’s landed on an odd tone, perhaps intentionally, as the show slowly gets you to invest in the characters’ hopes and dreams of going up into space as they gradually realise their lack of skills, abilities and temperament will most likely keep them from doing so.

But hope springs eternal and their continued earnestness and dedication to the dream keeps them, and me, going. I like the show even though I rarely laugh out loud at the onscreen antics.

While the show may be stuck on earth there is potential for liftoff. But, for now, it seems that space still remains the final comedic frontier.

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