Featuring three comedy heavyweights with John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, and Tim Heidecker, as well as an intriguing situational set-up, Showtime’s new “Moonbase 8” is an amusing, if slightly empty, workplace comedy.
“Moonbase 8’s” six episode first-season breezily follows the hijinks of Cap (Reilly), Skip (Armisen), and Rook (Heidecker) as they train in the not too distant future for a possible manned mission to the moon. Left to themselves in the Arizona desert, attempting to recreate the isolation and atmosphere of the moon, the show leans into its strange quarantine-friendly premise, immediately introducing Cap driving around a comically small rover, fully decked out in a spacesuit. The trio spend their time play-acting, pretending a shipping container is an airlock, that a break in their suits is life and death, and that any of the decisions that they make have any consequences. Left alone to their own bubble, and boring routine, with only sporadic updates from NASA, “Moonbase 8” seems tailor-made for our current situation, as the three test each other’s patience and, mainly, come up with ways to cure their boredom.
A revolving door of fourth members, including a notably hilarious cameo in the first episode best left unspoiled, highlight the trio’s dysfunction, as other astronauts come in, complete the training regiment and leave Cap, Skip, and Rook alone in the perpetual purgatory of the surrounding desert. Co-created by its three stars, as well as series director and EP Jonathan Krisel (“Baskets”), “Moonbase 8” is more amusing than laugh-out loud funny, taking the characters screw-ups to an extreme end. Refusing to update NASA on any of the problems they encounter, lest they be kicked out of the program, each mistake the wanna-be astronauts make ends up compounding. A mix-up about water delivery ends up putting them on the brink of dehydration, a psychological test is taken to a violent extreme, testing Cap and Skip’s friendship. In a particularly memorable episode, a rival SpaceX training mission sets up right next to Moonbase 8 and highlights the disproportionate finances that the private company has compared to NASA.
Yet despite referencing SpaceX, “Moonbase 8” is as hermetic as its characters, never really leaving the titular base or expanding the scope of storytelling as the season progresses. Despite premiering on Showtime, and the pedigree of the cast/creators, the show is a pretty simple situational comedy, mining most of its jokes from the interactions of co-workers and the inane work that they are forced to do. While the show takes some time to give backstories to the three, including Cap’s divorce, Skip’s father and his own work for NASA, and Rook’s religious beliefs and distant wife, these threads aren’t really developed. Instead, each episode adopts a rinse and repeat mentality, never really building on each other.
When the finale comes around, in which the group is forced to contend with a group of cattle-ranchers that claim that the base is on their land, Cap, Skip, and Rook haven’t developed in any meaningful way, continually stuck in the repetitions of their quarantined life together, reliving various bottle episode plots ad nauseum.
Despite “Moonbase 8’s” relatively lax approach to anything resembling narrative progress, Reilly, Armisen, and Heidecker are endlessly watchable, even if they are all repeating variations of previous performances. Reilly reliably pulls on his doofus-like characterization that made his work with Adam McKay memorable, while Armisen continues to build on his work in “Forever,” taking blandness to a surprising extreme. Heidecker, for his part, plays a bit more against type, muting his comic persona and, unlike Reilly and Armisen, portraying something of an arc as he grapples with faith and his cheating wife.
In all, “Moonbase 8” is comforting, but disposable entertainment. While the finale surprisingly teases a larger world beyond the desert, the first season is an uncomplicated hang-out. [B-]
“Moonbase 8” premiered on November 8 and will have new episodes weekly.
Showtime recently released the first episode on YouTube: