Moonbase 8

Moonbase 8

Dept. of The Wrong Stuff


Here I am, watching Moonbase 8, and waiting to laugh. I’m three episodes in and the most that the series has managed to inspire is a suppressed snigger when Fred Armisen’s Dr. Skip Henai tries to devise a more efficient way for the astronauts to get into their spacesuits by timing it to the Takadimi system from classical South Indian carnatic music. Which, let me tell you, came as quite the surprise because Moonbase 8 is created by, written, and stars three of the funniest men in American comedy.

Now don’t get me wrong. This is a very accomplished piece of work. It is beautifully observed and cleverly constructed. The writing is tight and the performances are subtle. Even the idea of having three men stuck in a moon base training simulation out in the middle of the desert in Winslow, Arizona, is full of comedy potential. And yet, I still wasn’t laughing.

Then again, maybe it’s not supposed to be “ha-ha” funny. Maybe it’s supposed to be the kind of deeply contemplative humour that relies on complex character dynamics rather than punch lines and witty one-liners. Maybe.

Moonbase 8

Moonbase 8 – following in the footsteps of Avenue 5, Space Force, and Away – is yet another high profile show that’s about space. (This recent proliferation of non-sci-fi space content on television might just be the perfect reflection of our no-so-secret desire to pack up our bags and flee the Earth in 2020.) But unlike say, Space Force, which centred around a motley group of characters, all of whom operating at the highest levels of inadequacy, Moonbase 8 is trying to find the funny in the inadequacies of three middle-aged white men.

Fred Armisen’s Skip is trying to live up the genius of his astronaut father. Tim Heidecker’s Rook is a gentle, devout Christian who believes that it is his mission to spread the word of God out into the universe. And John C. Reilly’s Cap is a loser who has lost everything on Earth and figures that he might as well flee to the Moon. These men are hardly what you would call “The Right Stuff.”

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It’s not often we see astronauts portrayed on screen as anything other than highly competent individuals. And while Moonbase 8 tries hard subvert that trope, it nevertheless lacks the momentum to say anything meaningful – or truly funny – about it. Each episode is so self-contained that we learn as much about these characters as we would in one of those Portlandia micro-sketches.

Which is truly unfortunate because these unlikely astronauts are so full of comedy potential. Here, let me set up the joke for you: “A scientist, a Christian, and a loser walk into a space station…” See, the possibilities are endless. Alas, the material here is so slight that I didn’t see any off those possibilities play out on screen.

Moonbase 8

I did, however, enjoy the low key, low rent approach to this series. The set looks like it was cobbled together from a garden centre, and their tacky spacesuits are nothing like what NASA would give their astronauts. (Not even the losers they dump in Arizona.) All of it added to the unsettling atmosphere of the series. It just wasn’t enough though.

Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, and John C. Reilly have made a career from playing inept. And they can’t help but be endearing whenever they do. This series relies far too much on their charm, charisma, and enthusiasm when what it should have done was just tell us more jokes.

Moonbase 8
Showtime, Season 1, 6 episodes
Director: Jonathan Krisel
Writer: Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, Jonathan Krisel, and John C. Reilly
Cast: Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, John C. Reilly, Thomas Mann, Alia Shawkat, and Travis Kelce

All six episodes of Moonbase 8 are now streaming on Showtime.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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