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Avenue 5 and Space Force Remind You About the Space Race

Credits: Wikimedia Commons

Roar writer Anoushka Chakrapani reviews sci-fi series, Avenue 5 and Space Race, both of which explore space in the near future. 

The Space Race is alive and well; now it’s going digital. 

2020 has seen two shows that revolve around space politics in one way or another: Avenue 5 and Space Force. Both haven’t faced much luck with the critics. The first seasons are always far from perfect. This problem was bound to arise, writers are dipping their feet into unexplored territory. Privatisation of space and a multi-polar space race, TV can no longer survive just on USA vs USSR plot lines. China, Japan and India are among a few countries who are competing but are also joined by private tech companies. Rather than focusing on the competition between different nations, we are entertained by watching the rich fighting it out. The battle of the billionaires between Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos is public knowledge with both mocking each other’s space launches – Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Origin Blue. The US Congress even created the United States Space Force, an attempt to militarise a vacuum. I mean there is a lot of satire to explore but these early stages pose a challenge of balancing creative liberty with caricaturing reality.  

Avenue 5 is Armando Ianucci’s return to TV after the multiple Emmy winning show Veep. Featuring Hugh Laurie as the captain of a spaceship 40 years into the future, it gives a glimpse of space tourism and the red tape around it. The show has its share of intelligent jokes and impeccable writing (limited to dialogue) but is crowded with premises that need more development. The spaceship and the plot both float in space without a trajectory. Once off course, every person on board tries to come up with solutions to find their way back – including passengers. One of them feels that jumping out of the ship would be a great idea, convinced it is a Truman show/Matrix level simulation, only to end up frozen on the spot. It is binge-worthy, keeps you entertained, and gives you a few laughs. You would come back for the characters, if not the story. Ianucci being a sci-fi enthusiast has kept away from making space into this enchanted and magical realm, one that L. Ron Hubbard might create. Rather, he has imagined scenarios that could be scientifically possible. A literal shit-storm revolving around the spaceship because of its gravitational pull? Absurd but, possible.  

Space Force, on the other hand, did not glue me to my screen. Steve Carrell and Greg Daniels took inspiration from Trump’s tweets but have a hard time synthesising them into a comedy. Unlike Daniels’ Parks and Recreation, we don’t find the same level of depth given to each character in this Netflix show. Satire would have been the tool that saved it, but the creators stay as far away from it as possible. Maybe it will follow the path of the other Greg Daniels’ creations – Parks and Rec and The Office didn’t start with a bang. What could have been a Veep-esque show has turned into a bland, grasping for jokes sitcom. We follow General Naird who is unhappy about his promotion as the leader of the Space Force, not the Air Force; a position created by the POTUS over Twitter. Setting itself up as a comedy about the personal predicament of an army General in the first episode, it takes an unexpected turn to focus on the military base. The story pivots from Naird’s dysfunctional family to his dysfunctional workplace. And the characters feel very one-note, Steve Carrell channels Michael Scott and Ben Schwartz does Jean Ralphio. The deadpan humour just doesn’t work here, neither does Steve Carrell breaking into Kokomo by the Beach Boys when he’s stressed. The dialogues are mostly facts picked up from reality and presented as jokes which scare you about the dystopia we live in. 

Space exploration is advancing steadily, and both these shows present the near future. In Avenue 5 we have destroyed Earth, Google collapses, Billy McFarland runs the FBI and the United States has two Presidents (one is an A.I.). While Space Force visualises the laughable possibility of a war on the moon. Imagine a simulation in the desert where the military forces are practising using guns and other earthly weapons in space. 



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