Moonbase 8 (Showtime)
Written by Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, Jonathan Krisel, & John C. Reilly
Directed by Jonathan Krisel
On the surface, I should love this show. I’ve been a big fan of Tim Heidecker’s whole career, John C. Reilly is terrific, and I have enjoyed all the Armisen/Krisle collabs (Portlandia, Documentary Now). Krisel has also directed episodes of Tim & Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule and Baskets. All of this is precisely in my comedy wheelhouse, mainly through the 2000s and 2010s. Ultimately, I enjoyed Moonbase 8 but didn’t necessarily love it.
The series follows one of several facilities built to simulate a colony on the moon. This particular colony is home to three potential astronauts. Robert “Cap” Caputo (Reilly) is a former helicopter pilot from Hawaii, Professor Scott “Rook” Sloan (Heidecker) is a Christian who wants to spread the gospel through the cosmos, and Dr. Michael “Skip” Henai, the son of a former NASA astronaut. It’s clear that these three are never going to the moon, and in each episode, they engage in some sort of shenanigans either dumped upon them by fate or borne out of their own incompetencies. Other crew members come through the base but are ultimately sent up while these three remain on Earth.
This is a very playful show, and it’s clear the four leading creators are enjoying making it. You get the feeling they got together, hashed out some skeleton plots, and filled in the details as they went. The series never feels like it’s improvised, but I suspect that happened in the writer’s room and behind the scenes. Character development is the focus, with interpersonal relationships at the forefront. We get only brief glimpses into their personal lives with Skip’s perceived pressure from his father’s legacy and Rook’s anxieties over his wife’s faithfulness while he’s gone.
The tone of the show is a little befuddling at times. It’s not quite a dark comedy, but it’s also not a positive energy lovefest. The creators took the route of making the humor subtle, shying away from absurdist parody, and rewarding viewers who devoted their full attention to each episode. The biggest laughs come from how incompetent these supposedly skilled men are. When Cap gets sick with a virus, they don’t seem to understand the need to quarantine. After moving the moonbase, based on advice from a local homeless man about negative energy, they end up in the path of an oncoming cattle stampede. Their solution is to use model rockets to scare and divert the cows. One ends up crashing into their greenhouse, but they keep her so they can secretly have a source of fresh milk.
The show’s scale keeps things simple, and at its heart, this is just a workplace sitcom. The workplace just happens to be an experimental moonbase in the Arizona wilderness. Nothing about the show will surprise or shock viewers, for being on Showtime, the program certainly doesn’t take advantage of the loose restrictions programming can have. This could easily be shown on basic cable or network tv without a fuss. It’s also a show that benefits from another level that couldn’t have been predicted during production. With so many people sheltering in p