Fans looking to blame something or someone that the American version of The Office hasn’t returned need only look to the stars. In the seven years since that show’s end, its creator and executive producer Greg Daniels has been working almost solely on shows with space or sci-fi themes. His latest show, Netflix’s Space Force, reunites him with Office star Steve Carell and Gizmodo recently had the chance to ask him about it.
“I spent many years trying to come up with stories about people selling boxes of copier paper. I did a lot of very realistic stuff,” Daniels, who also directed on the short-lived AMC show People of Earth and created Amazon’s new sci-fi show Upload, told Gizmodo over the phone last week. “Maybe there’s some sort of feeling of like, ‘There’s lots to write about in the world. Maybe there are other ways to do it.’”
Space Force threads the needle between realistic and impossible with a huge dose of the absurd. Carell, who co-created the show with Daniels, stars as Mark Naird, a rising U.S. General given the unenviable task of building a new branch of the military from the ground up. He struggles mightily to achieve the goal of “boots on the moon by 2024” and just generally make sense of the wild, random situation. Carell is joined by John Malkovich, Tawny Newsome, and Ben Schwartz as regulars, with sporadic cameos from the likes of Lisa Kudrow, Patrick Warburton, Jane Lynch, and the late great Fred Willard, who actually starred in a TV movie called Space Force in the ‘70s. “We just found out about just recently,” Daniels said. “We were just hiring him because he was so wonderful.”
Even during the run of The Office, Daniels had been looking to write about things that were out of this world. It was during the writer’s strike of 2008 that he started thinking about Upload, a show about a man uploaded to digital heaven. At the time, he saw it as a book but in 2015, he sold the concept to HBO as a series. He worked on it there for a few years before the executive who bought it left. Daniels then brought the project to Amazon, made the pilot in 2018, and put together a writer’s room during 2019. When that was done, and just before he went to shoot the first season of Upload in Vancouver, he met up with his old Office star, Carell.
“I had lunch with Steve and we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to do another TV comedy together?’” Daniels recalls. Shortly after, Carell had a general meeting with Netflix and the idea of a show about the newly announced, real-life thing called Space Force came up. Carell called Daniels. “Steve called me and said I’ve got two words for you: Space Force,” Daniels said. “We both said, ‘Well, that’s a fun idea. There’s a lot of great storytelling and visual potential in there.’”
So as Daniels was shooting Upload, he was simultaneously developing and writing scripts for Space Force. By May 2019, he’d finished filming one show and started the full writer’s room for the second. Space Force was shot in the fall of 2019, just before work began on season two of Upload.
And though Space Force is based on a real-life thing, actual real life wasn’t very helpful during the show’s development.
“When we picked Space Force, there wasn’t a Space Force yet. And we’re still coming out ahead of the first launch,” Daniels said. “We pretty much had to think about it before they did. We designed our fatigues and our flags and our logo and everything and shot the show last year. And now we’re seeing them release their flag, their logo, their fatigue design. And so I think our show is sort of like a parallel universe. We took the same jumping off point in the summer of 2018 and then we just went into an imaginary direction. And, you know, we’ll see if there’s any realistic connection.”
Though there is realism, the idea of the military branch is a far cry from a Scranton, Pennsylvania paper company. And yet, with Daniels and Carell reuniting, Space Force obviously will make people think of that hit show.
“It didn’t occur to me that the fact we were doing a show that was not The Office would make people angry, Daniels said, half-joking, half-not. “For me, it was just ‘Oh, I loved working with Steve and I know from experience how great he is both as an actor and as a creative partner.’ So I just jumped at it. I wasn’t expecting we would be like drowned in a tidal wave of hopefully re-creating The Office or something.”
Because, for Daniels, Space Force was never The Office. And it never will be. “I hope people enjoy there’s a new comedy show with new actors and new topics to write about,” he said. “It’s only meant to be fun.”
The full, 10-episode first season of Space Force debuts on Netflix May 29. Upload is on Amazon now.