“MOONBASE 8” ON A MISSION FOR WRY, OFFBEAT SPACE COMEDY
A TV Review by Tim Riley
“MOONBASE 8” ON SHOWTIME Showtime’s “Moonbase 8,” a six-episode series that one could easily watch in one sitting without having to even take a bathroom break, offers a wry, offbeat take on astronaut training in the remote Arizona desert.Nothing about Robert “Cap” Caputo (John C. Reilly), the ostensible team leader, and his colleagues, Michael “Skip” Henai (Fred Armisen), and Scott “Rook” Sloan (Tim Heidecker), will have you thinking about “The Right Stuff.” These would-be astronauts are in a training competition with other camps in a simulated lunar environment for a NASA mission to be the first to experience habitation on the Moon. As an aside, fans of the Kansas City Chiefs may be thrilled that one of their Super Bowl champions has been picked for a quick tryout to determine if a civilian might adapt to an outer space experience, but don’t too excited about it, for reasons not to be revealed here.
“Moonbase 8” might be a cathartic release from the ongoing need for many to self-isolate during the pandemic, if only for the absurdity of witnessing these astronauts being tested to determine whether they not only survive but thrive in the ultimate seclusion of Moon-like conditions. The barren Arizona desert may be the closest thing in America to simulate the lunar landscape that allows NASA to rig a base camp in a modular building intended to sustain life in a harsh environment. The real challenge for the three astronauts-in-training is coping with the mundane daily routine as if they are actually 238,900 miles from Earth instead of being stuck in a huge sand trap.
The series begins with the group celebrating their 200th day at the simulated moon base where the mail delivery brings them a $100 gift card from Harley-Davidson and Cap gets a notice that the City of Honolulu has booted his car. Consistent with John C. Reilly’s comically stereotypical characters, Cap is played for a borderline juvenile goofball with a sense of desperation of how much he needs to succeed. A helicopter pilot from Hawaii, Cap needs to turn his life around after failing at marriage and business, owing a ton of debt, and hoping to erase his image as a deadbeat father when he proves his worth as an astronaut.
A legacy candidate and apparently more cerebral than his crewmates, Skip is the son of a famous astronaut who went to the Moon, but he’s obviously not cut out to follow in his father’s audacious footsteps.The quiet one is Rook, a deeply religious person with a wife and twelve kids who gather for frequent video chats and who fervently believes that his mission is to spread the Gospel in outer space.As a group, these hopeful astronauts are wholly inadequate at managing scarce resources. They are about to run out of a monthly water supply in a barely a week, and their system that converts urine into potable water fails to eliminate the foul smell.Meals in the compound consist of unappealing dehydrated food, a sore point driven home when they meet a crew from a nearby SpaceX camp where the trainees get to enjoy catered street food that includes Thai, Sicilian and Vietnamese cuisine.
The deadpan humor of the series hinges most importantly on the odd personality quirks of the crew. Adept at playing the buffoon, John C. Reilly’s incompetent Cap blusters his way through any obstacles while being self-aware of his inadequacies.For his part, Skip comes across as pretty much a variation of the sketch characters perfected by Fred Armisen during his time with “Saturday Night Live” as well as with the idiosyncratic “Portlandia” series. The pious Rook is so persistently bland and unaware that one has to wonder how he is either oblivious or indifferent to the presence of another man during the video chats with his family.
What all three wannabe astronauts have in common, aside from dreams of space travel and a measure of self-respect, is how awesome they are in their own mediocrity in search of achieving their goals.One of the funniest scenes is when Cap flails about in trying to say what the acronym of NASA actually stands for. Odd moments like this reveal the subtle humor that is endearing to the series. As far as watching half-hour comedy episodes goes, “Moonbase 8” might not be the “Must See TV” in the way that concept was once the hallmark of NBC’s marketing campaign, but enjoying the wry humor of the show would not be a bad way to consider streaming the series for an evening. Showtime has released the premiere episode for free online sampling, as well as on streaming platforms. Amazon Prime Video offers the first episode to its members. Of course, there’s the 30-day free trial offer if you feel like getting hooked into a Showtime subscription, or just take the gamble you’ll remember to cancel before the deadline.