Space-based giggles are the new trend in American comedy. Moonbase 8 (Sky Comedy) follows Steve Carrell’s Netflix sitcom Space Force and the Hugh Laurie-Armando Iannucci series Avenue 5, which ran on HBO and Sky. Once again it is time to buckle up for laughs about zero-gravity toilets and the embarrassing side-effects of dehydrated food.
Moonbase 8 is easily the best of the three, though that isn’t necessarily saying a lot as both Space Force and Avenue 5 neglected to pack any jokes for the trip. Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C Reilly play inept astronauts helping Nasa prepare for a real lunar landing by conducting experiments on a facsimile moonbase in Arizona (the trio also wrote the script, along with US comedy director Jonathan Krisel).
One of the pleasures of Moonbase 8 is that it doesn’t try too hard. Gentle hilarity was the prevailing mood in episodes one and two (aired as a double-bill). Reilly was a former helicopter pilot whose military career ended in ignominy. Heidecker played a Evangelical Christian serious about his faith and pinning for his huge family. And Armisen was the son of a famous astronaut, in whose shadow he is destined to live his own, less-heralded life.
But the gentle tone sometimes suffered from understatement. Minutes would go by without a gag. On other occasions jokes were delivered in such a deadpan fashion that they didn’t land so much as spin around like a fork in high orbit.
The “astronauts” were a study in middle-life ennui and Moonbase 8 evoked a great deal of poignancy in exploring their different ways of dealing with failure. This was thrown into relief by the presence of a fourth crew member: hulking American football star Travis Kelce, playing a cocky parody of himself with surprising comic timing.
Kelce was soon coming to a sticky ending in one of several scenes that relied on slapstick. There were flashes of juvenile humour, meanwhile, in a sequence in which the crew were required to drink their supposedly filtered urine. They were quickly vomiting everywhere.
Moonbase 8 worked best blending dry wit with moving character studies of three men who discovered that even on the Moon – or a fake moon in Arizona – there are some problems from which you cannot run. If only the one-liners functioned as effectively as the pathos.