Every network and streaming service seems to want to get into the space game, from Away on Netflix to For All Mankind on Apple+ to, more recently, The Right Stuff on Disney+ and Moonbase 8 on Showtime. The one series I haven’t watched (yet), For All Mankind, has been the best received, so far. As for the two latest? I’m going to keep this short:
The Right Stuff is inoffensively bland, while Moonshot is painfully, unbearably unfunny.
It’s been a while since I’ve read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (in a college New Journalism class), but I remember enough to know that, while the Disney+ show may cover much of the same terrain as the book (the personal lives of the Mercury 7), it’s decidedly different in tone, and about as sanitized as a story about seven boozing, philandering astronauts could possibly be. Mike Ross from Suits (Patrick J. Adams) plays John Glenn, and that’s almost all you need to know about the adaptation — it’s the Suits of astronaut shows. He’s depicted as a duplicitous, self-interested Democrat (gasp!), who doesn’t sleep around with other women but judges his fellow astronauts harshly for doing so. There’s a race to beat the Russians to the moon, but also a rivalry among the Mercury 7 — especially between Glenn and Al Shepard (Jake McDorman) — to be the first to orbit the Earth. Gordon Cooper (Colin O’Donoghue ), meanwhile, is trying to save his marriage, while his wife Trudy (Eloise Mumford) is trying to build an independent life of her own. Most of the rest of the astronauts are either glorified red shirts or probably being saved for season two?
It’s material ripe for a great drama, but Mark Lafferty (Halt & Catch Fire) seems determined, instead, to make it as palatable as possible to as many people as possible, which means sanding down any hint of an edge. Chuck Yeager, a major presence in Wolfe’s book, doesn’t even figure into the series, and what’s left is something akin to a pasty, generic The Astronaut Wives Club and their Husbands. It’s not exactly Disney’s fault, either, that The Right Stuff is as white as it is — it’s historically accurate — but in a 2020 landscape where even an adaptation of Catherine the Great’s story on Hulu casts a number of people of color, The Right Stuff looks painfully antiquated (it’s hard not to wonder while watching it, moreover, what a difference adding a woman or a Black person to the space program in the ’60s might have meant to millions in terms of representation).
For all its faults — and they are myriad — The Right Stuff is at least watchable. The same cannot be said for Showtime’s Moonbase 8, a sort of workplace comedy set on a Moon Base Simulator in the desert of Arizona. It stars Fred Armisen, John C. Reilly, and Tim Heidecker (all three of whom also created the series along with Jonathan Krisel) as aspiring astronauts who just have to prove themselves by mastering life on the moon base simular.
If you are among those, like myself, who abhors the comedy of Fred Armisen (the original Kyle Mooney), Moonbase 8 is basically a nightmare that begins the moment that Travis Kelce — yes, the Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs — dies in the opening episode. The fact that Kelce — an NFL player — is the funniest character on the series says about all you need to know (but seriously, he’s great, and KC fans should at least watch the pilot).
I think it was filmed under COVID restrictions, and watching the series feels a lot like being locked down during a pandemic alone with Fred Armisen — every half-hour episode feels like three days. It’s a series designed to find comedy in the mundane, but mostly it reveals just how painfully mundane their attempts at comedy are. Showtime released all 8 episodes at once; I watched five and had to stop because I was starting to wonder if I could knock myself unconscious with my laptop. It would have been sweet relief.
Header Image Source: Disney+/Showtime