'Moonbase 8' is a pretty weightless Showtime comedy

"Moonbase 8" is about three guys in what amounts to quarantine, which adds an unexpectedly timely wrinkle to what's otherwise a pretty silly comedy. Even wit...

Posted: Nov 7, 2020 10:21 AM

"Moonbase 8" is about three guys in what amounts to quarantine, which adds an unexpectedly timely wrinkle to what's otherwise a pretty silly comedy. Even with that, though, this wry but inconsequential Showtime series feels so weightless, despite the talent involved, that it could easily just float away.

Hatched up by the team behind the sketch comedy "Portlandia," the mildly amusing conceit involves a trio of aspiring, mostly inept astronauts auditioning for a spot on a Moon base by sequestering themselves in a mock space installation in Winslow, Arizona. (As a footnote, this is almost surely the most pop-culture attention Winslow has received since the Eagles song "Take It Easy.")

The astronauts are played by John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen and Tim Heidecker (of "Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!"), and they're an eccentric bunch, down the quirky nicknames. Reilly's Cap is clearly the most desperate of the trio thanks to troubles at home, while Heidecker's Rook is a devout Christian struggling with being separated from his wife and horde of children.

Despite the notion that the base seeks to approximate the challenges of being on the Moon -- dusting off the "urine recycling machine," for example, when there's a problem with the water supply -- various people drop in and out over the course of the six episodes. That said, the series remains fairly claustrophobic, and mostly uneventful, despite the occasional foray outside their protective bubble into the desert environs (wearing spacesuits, of course).

The creative team's sketch-comedy roots appear evident in some of the sillier situations, which have the understated tone of a British comedy. Reilly does conjure the occasional funny moment as someone so dense it's hard to imagine him passing a driving test, much less qualifying for the space program and meeting NASA's demands.

Still, the whole exercise feels as thin as the lunar atmosphere, as "Moonbase 8" joins a roster of series loosely built around space exploration, including Netflix's "Space Force" and "Away." If that's an indication of a current infatuation with space travel in the cultural zeitgeist, it merely contributes to a been-there, seen-that quality.

As small steps for TV go, "Moonbase 8" isn't the worst of that undistinguished bunch. But despite its Earth-bound moorings, it possesses the least sense of gravity.

"Moonbase 8" premieres Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. ET on Showtime.

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