Film and drama

Screen Themes: Space Force vs Tommy

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As reality TV continues to clog the airwaves, entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out a couple of small-screen dramas that might be worth your time.

Space Force: Created by Steve Carrell & Greg Daniels

EXPECTATION CAN BE a heavy weight on any creative endeavour. Would we have been as harsh on the Star Wars prequels if we hadn’t waited 20 years for them? Probably.

But my point is that certain directors, writers or actors bring a level of expectation to a new TV show. Which brings us to Space Force, created by funnyman Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, writer of The Office, Parks and Recreation and King of the Hill.

Steve Carrell stars as Mark Naird, a buttoned-down four-star general who was hoping to take over the Air Force only to be given the task of getting "Boots on the Moon" as the chief of the newly created titular agency.

Assisted by the acerbic Dr Mallory (John Malkovich at his sarcastic best), a team of highly trained scientists (Jimmy O. Yang’s Dr Chan Kaifang stands out) and incompetent military types (Don Lake as Brad Gregory, one-star General and worst ever personal assistant), Naird does his best to balance the demands of a near-impossible job and raising a daughter as a single father. Now and then, he breaks out in song to relieve the tension.

It is the family elements of Naird dealing with his incarcerated wife (Lisa Kudrow) and increasingly rebellious daughter (Diana Silvers) that reveal Space Force is a drama as much as it is a satirical comedy.  Sure, there are laughs, often generated by the malicious incompetence of the un-named president, but the dramatic elements add a level of engagement with the characters that it took The Office a few seasons to land.  

If there is one thing that may harm the long term appeal of Space Force, it’s that the humour is incredibly topical. The annoying PR flack is named after blink-and-you-missed-him Trump sycophant Anthony Scaramucci, referred to by everyone as "F**k Tony", often to his face.

From this perspective, it’s handy to have a working knowledge of the farce that is U.S. politics in 2020. If you can laugh at the self-destructive timebomb that the U.S. is becoming, then Space Force might have something for you.

Tommy: Created by Paul Attanasio

For some actors, playing a member of the mafia in one successful project leads to their typecasting (as everyone from Paul Sorvino to Al Pacino could attest), the phenomenon being far worse when the actor in question stars in one of the most successful TV series of all time. 

I am talking, of course, about the Sopranos, and the spectacular Edie Falco who played family matriarch Carmella. One of the best players in one of the best TV series of all time, the only criminal misstep was not leaving Carmella on the throne at the conclusion of the series.

Thirteen years later writer Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco, Quiz Show) rights that wrong, casting Falco as the first-ever female Chief of Police in Los Angeles. Sure, it’s on the other side of the legal divide, but Abigail Thomas (known as Tommy to her friends) faces as much sexism, machismo and unexpected gun violence as the new top cop as she would have as the first female mafia don.

The fact that Tommy is an openly gay character seems to have offended some people and despite healthy ratings, CBS announced the cancellation of the series on May 6th, the day before the season finale.

Reading the comments on the IMDB page gives a depressing insight into the deeper right-wing reaction to the show, with many commenters complaining about the positive light in which illegal immigrants are cast.

Not that they express it eloquently.

The Verdict

At the end of the day, Tommy is not a great show, but it’s a great example of a decent show that has been taken out by the political division that dominates every aspect of American culture in 2020.

If you watch Space Force hoping for The Office in uniform, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. If you take it for what it is, which is a political satire with genuine heart, then you might find something to like.

Space Force is available to stream on Netflix. Tommy is now showing on Channel 10 and 10Play.

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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