Comedy fans were understandably excited when “Moonbase 8,” Showtime’s latest comedy starring comedy giants Fred Armisen (“Portlandia”), Tim Heidecker (“Mister America”) and John C. Reilly (“Wreck-It Ralph”) was released last week. Unfortunately for them, it looks like the new series wasn’t able to deliver the laugh we all need right now.
The show pretty much works like this:
Imagine a bunch of mediocre and middle-aged men looking to make a name for themselves. They all mean well, I suppose, but are totally incompetent and have their own weird thing going on. They are on a moonbase simulator in the middle of a desert and largely left to their own devices, leading to absurd results.
So far, so good. The show’s set-up and its kooky characters are one of its most promising factors, and at first glance, there is hope that “Moonbase 8” can be a situational comedy series along the lines of “Portlandia,” but for a 2020 audience.
Yet while shows like “Portlandia” found their comedic footing through bold creative decisions, like changes in film formatting to highlight bits, outlandish characters and colorful dialogue, “Moonbase 8” comes up short. Its production quality is high and the cinematography is notable, but the reason most people tend to watch comedies isn’t for what’s on screen as much as what is being said, and in “Moonbase 8” there isn’t much being said at all. The situations are ridiculous, but they lack any larger meaning or commentary. Even when considering scenes as being ridiculous for the mere sake of being ridiculous, “Moonbase 8” tends to miss the mark.
In one scene, the crew drinks water they created from urine, which Armisen’s character deems “de-urinified” or “de-peed.” They spit out the water immediately, saying it tastes too salty. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a Gen-Z kid who grew up exposed to the internet, but I’ve seen enough bathroom jokes in my time to raise my standards above this one. The truth is, as silly as “Moonbase 8” gets, it’s never silly enough for what it seeks to do. The dialogue lacks any quotables and nothing really sticks. When I think of “Portlandia,” I can recall certain scenes I want to tell my friends about, or certain quotes that frequent our conversations for weeks, but after watching a season of “Moonbase 8” I have nothing to say.
Perhaps, in the end, the expectations are what killed “Moonbase 8.” While the comedic performances from Armisen, Heidecker and Reilly are strong and the actors seemed comfortable in their characters, there isn’t enough on paper for them to go off, leaving viewers feeling as if there’s substance missing. To the producers of the series, I’d say: If you’re going to line up comedy giants, you might as well shoot for the moon next time.
Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.