Some people say truth is stranger than fiction. Those people probably work in the “Space Force” writers’ room.
“Space Force” is an upcoming comedy from Netflix starring Steve Carell as a general leading the newly established sixth branch of the military. According to showrunner Greg Daniels, the idea came together quickly.
Following President Donald Trump’s announcement of a real Space Force in 2018, Netflix executive Blair Fetter had a meeting with Carell and mentioned that the new branch sounded like a cool idea for a show. Carell called his former “The Office” showrunner Daniels, and the pair soon went to work on the new series.
With the real Space Force and the Netflix show being created around the same time, overlap was inevitable. Daniels credits research done by production designer Susie Mancini, as well as information from space and military consultants, for the show being “strangely accurate.” (Even if the actual Space Force general, John W. Raymond, thinks Carell’s hair is a bit too shaggy for the role.)
“They just came out with designs of the moon lander, and it looks almost identical to the moon lander that we designed in our show,” Daniels said.
Still, a few ideas from the real Space Force are almost too far out there for the Netflix comedy series.
“They put out their uniform and we tweeted within the same day our uniform,” Daniels told HuffPost, talking about photos of the widely mocked camo uniforms released by the real-life Space Force.
“Our fatigues have a pattern of the surface of the moon on them, as seen from a telescope,” Daniels said of the show’s uniforms. “We thought it was hilarious because, first of all, you can’t really wear fatigues on the surface of the moon and, secondly, in terms of camouflage, a picture of the moon from 200 miles away is not really appropriate.”
“But we never expected that they were going to go with jungle,” Daniels continued. “You know what I mean? That was funnier than the moon.”
The actual Space Force logo is also a little too much for the show — again, a comedy about the Space Force — to accept.
“Our graphic design department was probably coming up with the design look of our fictional Space Force around the same time that they were coming up with the design of the real Space Force,” Daniels said. “When they put out their patch that people remarked was so similar to ‘Star Trek,’ I think that we probably wouldn’t have gone with that. We would have said it was too similar to ‘Star Trek.’”
In addition to “Space Force,” Daniels also recently launched Amazon Prime’s “Upload,” an idea he’s been working on since being a part of “Saturday Night Live” around 30 years ago. The futurist comedy series features a world where people can live forever after they “upload” to a digital afterlife powered by capitalism and Taco Bell pop-up ads.
In a chat with HuffPost, Daniels talked about “Space Force,” “Upload” and the mysterious Netflix algorithm’s recommendations to creators, which is pretty much: “Just make ‘The Office.’”
Greg, have you ever tried a Gordita Crunch?
[Laughs] Yes. Well, we got a bunch for the [“Upload”] art department to draw.
I’m a Taco Bell fan, so I was into it. How did that actually end up in the show?
There’s a lot of corporate influence in “Upload.” Everything is very consumerized and capitalistic as part of the sort of satire. Just the fact that once you are in this digital life extension experience, virtual reality experience, you’re really a captive audience. And it’s a lot like being online and getting pop-up ads. Taco Bell always has a kind of cheeky ad campaign. I’m thinking of the “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” chihuahua that was voiced by a guy who worked on “King of the Hill.” But I guess it just seemed funny.
“The Office” wasn’t designed for streaming, but became one of the biggest streaming hits. Did that success teach you anything for “Upload” and “Space Force”?
There’s a funny thing that happened with “Space Force” ... There was a moment where I was in a room with about 40 marketers, and all the different areas of marketing at Netflix. They’re very, very sophisticated. One person was describing to me what their research showed worked the best on Netflix, and she was saying, “A workplace comedy that has romantic entanglements and it’s very observational humor and relatable.” And I realized she was just describing to me “The Office.” And I was like, “Yeah, I think I know what that is.” It was the No. 1 show on Netflix at the time.
Wow! That’s so funny.
It’s weird because “The Office,” obviously, wasn’t written to be a streamer, and yet did very well on streaming. But when Steve [Carell] and I were creating “Space Force,” it doesn’t feel like “The Office” terribly much in terms of its look. It’s got a very cinematic look. And the character Mark Naird is pretty different from Michael Scott. He’s a very inflexible person of integrity who’s decisive and a great leader. But we were used to [“The Office”] when we worked together. I do think it has some feel of that show in its bones somewhere.
I still can’t get over how the Netflix algorithm or research says: “Just make ‘The Office.’” That’s amazing.
Yeah. It was a funny moment when we all realized in the room that they were basically describing “The Office” to me.
In “Space Force,” you have versions of actual government officials, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but they have different names. So is Donald Trump the president in “Space Force,” or is it a character who just acts like Trump?
Well, we don’t specify that. The president is just referred to as the president. There’s so much talk of Trump, I don’t feel like we needed to add to that to make the show good. There’s a few others that are probably closer in name. But it’s basically about this fictional general who’s being put in a very hard position where the politicians are insisting that he gets to space: “Boots on the moon by 2024.” And all the scientists are telling him how hard it is. And he’s trying to juggle these things and figure out what to do and be a good person.
It is sort of set in the real world, or at least like the version of the real world that you get from watching the news. And so we had a few people in there that are really close to their real-world equivalence, but obviously they’re not the real people. They’re just a comedy equivalent. They’re the RC Cola or something, not the Pepsi.
[Laugh] I will never say. Toby — Paul Lieberstein — worked on “Space Force” and wrote Episode 9. That was fun. A lot of “The Office” crew came back for that too. Jeff Blitz directed, and Dave Rogers was our editor.
It sounds like inadvertently you are taking Netflix’s advice and making it more like “The Office” after all.
Yeah, that’s mostly behind the scenes, but for sure.
You worked on “The Simpsons,” and recently a style guide for that show went viral, showing things you’d never see on “The Simpsons.” What’s one thing we’ll never see on “Upload”?
The thing with “Upload” is that there’s nothing supernatural about it. You know, I think the connection to the afterlife is in the marketing that the big tech companies use, but it’s all technological and science fiction, futurism comedy. So there’s a lot of rules in how we play that technology. And one of the rules is that if you actually die, you can’t be uploaded. You have to get to the hospital and get to the scanning machine while you’re still alive.
What about one thing we’ll never see on “Space Force”?
Oh, it might be the president.
“Upload” is available to stream now on Amazon Prime. “Space Force” launches on Netflix May 29.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How to vote
Vote-by-mail ballot request deadline: Varies by state
For the Nov 3 election: States are making it easier for citizens to vote absentee by mail this year due to the coronavirus. Each state has its own rules for mail-in absentee voting. Visit your state election office website to find out if you can vote by mail.Get more information
In-person early voting dates: Varies by state
Sometimes circumstances make it hard or impossible for you to vote on Election Day. But your state may let you vote during a designated early voting period. You don't need an excuse to vote early. Visit your state election office website to find out whether they offer early voting.My Election Office
General Election: Nov 3, 2020
Polling hours on Election Day: Varies by state/localityMy Polling Place