It really is difficult to see whom Moonbase 8 is supposed to be for. A new Showtime comedy, it stars John C Reilly, Fred Armisen and Tim Heidecker as three hopeless American astronauts tasked by NASA with living in the Arizona desert in a simulation of life on the moon. There’s a lot that makes the mouth water here: the premise; the talent; the timing. But the show is a real disappointment. After watching the entire first season, I laughed once, and that was at a joke about 15th-century cardinals.
Perhaps, in fact, the fate of Space Force, the Steve Carrell-fronted Netflix show that attracted horrific reviews, should have been the canary down the mine for the makers of Moonbase 8: shows about space are cursed; turn back. But another characteristic that binds these two shows beyond their subject matter is that the stars also wrote the episodes. (Steve Carrell co-wrote Space Force; Moonbase 8 is the work of Armisen, Reilly and Heidecker, as well as writer-director Jonathan Krisel.) If ever there has been evidence that some actors shouldn’t be allowed to write scripts, it is these two shows.
Because the characters are stranded on their base together for months on end, the episodes revolve around the petty squabbles – water, hierarchy, loyalty – that confinement inevitably triggers. But the stories fall uncomfortably between two stools: they are neither imaginative enough to be particularly funny, nor dramatic enough to pique the viewer’s interest. From the very beginning of the show the dialogue between the three characters – Reilly’s helicopter pilot; Heidecker’s patient Christian; Armisen’s space nerd – feels decidedly subdued, as though it is being played at half-speed. It has the unpleasant whiff of an in-joke that the audience hasn’t been let in on. The distinct vibe, the show seems to assume, means that the script doesn’t need to contain any jokes.
There are, of course, little rays of sunshine throughout. But they are little. The antagonism between Reilly and Armisen occasionally forces them both into amusing stand-offs (Heidecker, unfortunately, does almost nothing funny in the show); Reilly is stung and bitten after a scorpion crawls into his helmet. But really the events of most episodes are exactly the kind of mundane goings-on that you would expect given the premise, and don’t try to make the experience particularly enjoyable for the viewer. The episodes always feel as though they have been subjected to a first draft and some half-hearted improv, then precious little else. Often they end on the most mediocre part of the entire 25 minutes, almost as though they are deliberately trying to provoke the viewer.
Moonbase 8 is exactly the kind of inoffensive sitcom that most people might watch without complaint. But the waste of potential is maddening. In the first episode they do away with one character whose presence would genuinely have been able to inspire some funny plots further down the line. This decision is indicative of the weirdly poor judgment that seeps through the whole show. You are sincerely advised to do something else with your valuable time.