Moonbase 8 review: Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, John C Reilly's NASA workplace caper never takes flight

The show confines its three protagonists to a single setting for its entirety, and it should make for a suitable bedfellow in these COVID-19 times. But it doesn't.

Prahlad Srihari November 10, 2020 12:00:47 IST
Moonbase 8 review: Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, John C Reilly's NASA workplace caper never takes flight

A still from Moonbase 8

Language: English

Moonbase 8 charts a voyage to the final frontier, already navigated by Avenue 5 and Space Force earlier this year. Both those comedies struggled after lift-off, eventually spinning out of orbit.The new series from Jonathan Krisel, Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, and John C Reilly follows their trail and suffers a similar fate, floating between a workplace satire that wants to put the fun in dysfunction and a comedy that doubles down on our claustrophobic reality. Wanting to capture both the humanity and absurdity of it all, the show gets lost in dead space, because it just can't land on the kind of comedy it wants to be.

The A24-produced sitcom locates the setting not on the Moon, but a NASA training simulator in the Arizona desert. Here, we meet three wannabe astronauts Skip (Armisen), Rook (Heidecker), and their leader Cap (Reilly) trying to hit the optimum qualification standards to travel to the Moon. To prepare for such an extreme environment where things can go dreadfully wrong at every turn, they must demonstrate their individual skills, and their ability to work as a team. Thrown into a workplace sitcom setup, they fail more grandly with each slip-up and setback from episode to episode.

The whole season feels like one long bottle episode. The show confines its three protagonists to a single setting for its entirety, and it should make for a suitable bedfellow in these COVID-19 times. But it doesn't.

In the best bottle episodes, working within such financial and spacial constraints allows the writers to strip the show down to its bones. It provides space for internal conflicts to play out to often hilarious results. "Comparative Calligraphy" and "Remedial Chaos Theory" from Community are two excellent examples. In Moonbase 8 however, the bottle episode format feels orchestrated. Though the show was announced two years before the pandemic, it feels like a miscalculated attempt to update three familiar deadpan personas to a new setting.

They say "All good things come in threes." The adage could apply to comedies too: The Three Stooges, Marx Brothers, Three Amigos, Three's Company, The Dude, Walter, Donny in The Big Lebowski etc. In Moonbase 8, Armisen, Heidecker, and Reilly bring in a certain lived-in chemistry to the show. All three play broadly drawn incompetents in positions of some importance. It is hard to believe they are NASA recruits considering their lack of fitness, skill or even intelligence (for starters, they don't know what NASA stands for).

Moonbase 8 review Fred Armisen Tim Heidecker John C Reillys NASA workplace caper never takes flight

John C Reilly as Cap and Fred Armisen as Skip

Cap is another Reilly-standard loveable goof. Following a failed marriage and a failed helicopter tour business, he is a man trying to prove he isn't just a deadbeat dad. But he is slowly coming undone as he tries to hold the whole thing together. Like Hugh Laurie with Avenue 5 and John Malkovich with Space Force, Reilly is undoubtedly  the centre of gravity in Moonbase 8. There is an innate stupidity as always to the Heidecker archetype. Rook is a born-again Christian who wants to "spread the gospel of Jesus Christ out into the universe." Skip wants to carry on the legacy of his father, who was also an astronaut. Armisen brings a low-key but still infectious energy with his ramblings. These performances are unadorned sketches of unfulfilled lives, and give the whole farce a heart. 

Moonbase 8 review Fred Armisen Tim Heidecker John C Reillys NASA workplace caper never takes flight

A still from Moonbase 8

Despite their incompetence and their differences, the trio recognises kindred adventurers in each other, and force each other to realise their best selves. What carries the comedy isn't sight gags or running jokes, but the sheer absurdity of all the things that transpire at the base and the reactivity of these three gifted comedians. Though they try their best to liven things up, there is no getting around the writing which just isn't fresh enough to wring a ton of laughs. Regrettably, the whole thing is too silly to make what is less than a three-hour investment worthwhile.

Moonbase 8 is streaming on Voot Select in India.

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