By BRUCE DENNILL
Space Force: Season One / Created by Steve Carell and Greg Daniels / 13
Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer / Directed by Mark Lewis / 16VSNL
White Boy Rick / Directed by Yann Demange / 16LDVSN
Both Greg Daniels and Steve Carell were involved in the American version of The Office and there is a similarly situational, satirical feel to this new collaboration as it begins, though in other ways, Space Force is completely distinct. For one thing, it has a massive budget, widening the scope from a couple of rooms with desks and a printer to a secret launch base and, well, space. For a large part of the first season, that paradox is confusing rather than pleasingly absurd, with the jokes pitched, or so it feels, for a more intimate space than the entire US government department in which it all takes place. Steve Carell holds the threads together well, but as more or less the epitome of awkward and funny, he is often forced by the script to be more of the former and less of the latter. As a career soldier who is given the hospital pass of a newly created military division tasked with getting Americans back on the moon, Carell’s General Mark Naird is both clueless and committed, stupid and sympathetic. His bumbling is balanced by John Malkovitch’s bitter, brittle Dr Adrian Mallory, the obvious brains of the outfit. Judged over the season, the storyline is distractingly uneven, with the more outrageously satirical episodes always the better options. When the show aims (or unwittingly tends towards) drama, the tone is all wrong, and even the talent of a supporting cast including Lisa Kudrow, Noah Emmerich and Jane Lynch can’t keep the series in a consistent groove. There’s just about enough to keep you from wanting to abandon (rocket) ship, but almost every episode ends with a sense of an opportunity not quite grasped.
The odd title of the three-episode series Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting An Internet Killer hones in on the precise facets that make it disturbing on a couple of levels. First, the show delves into the search – by ordinary internet users – for a psycho who posts horrifying snuff videos on YouTube. Second, it reveals that the killer’s mistake – the error that allowed the amateur sleuths to latch onto his movements and schemes – was posting a video in which he heartlessly abused and murdered a cat. That was the action that outraged viewers enough to ensure that they followed through with what became a lengthy and convoluted chase – not the murders of actual humans posted by the same person. These threads, exploring how the internet is exploited for two opposing purposes (neither of them particularly palatable) are at the heart of the piece, and the fact that this shared resource is an enabler for both casual evil and a complete invasion of privacy is discomfiting in the extreme. The series loses considerable impact by falling into the trap of so many similar projects and over-dramatising everything, adding a soundtrack of sonic cliches and using editing techniques designed to be stirring and menacing but ultimately adding a tabloid feel to what might perhaps have been a more sobering enterprise if the disquieting topic had been examined in a different way.
Matthew McConaughey has made a number of films in which his characters exist in sordid subcultures somewhere in America, as parts of small stories that speak to the greater malaise in whatever societal niche they’re set in. In White Boy Rick, he is a charming, small-time gun-trader in Detroit in the 1980s, when the once-proud city was crumbling as a crack epidemic undermined all its structures. His Richard Wershe Sr is a single dad who cares deeply, in his flawed way, for his son Rick Wershe Jr (Richie Merritt), which makes it doubly problematic when Rick, finding himself in trouble with the law, is co-opted to help local agents in an investigation and gets sucked into a lifestyle that’s even more unpredictable and dangerous than what he lived before. The story is sedately paced, attempting to be as gritty as the surroundings in which it takes place but not quite succeeding. McConaughey is focused and convincing every time he’s on screen and Merritt does plenty to suggest that he’s a name worth looking out for going forward but, while the film is worth a look, it’s not something that will dwell too long in the memory.
These series and films are available on Netflix.