Moonbase 8 is quite possibly the worst show of 2020. A useless Showtime show about useless people, it is unfunny, untrue, and lazy, but it reveals a lot more about our times than it intended to. The show stars John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, and Tim Heidecker as a trio of reserve astronauts relegated to training younger astronauts at a simulated moonbase in the desert in the middle of nowhere, away from where the real action is.
It's too easy to say this show is bad and why it's lazy, unfunny, and inauthentic. It takes the lazy comedy trope of "what if everyone was a schlubby, incompetent idiot?" which is far too easy to write. The three reserve astronauts are all unhappy, petty, and incompetent in ways that no real-life astronauts could ever be. Reilly's character's desperation to get to the moon so he can prove his life wasn't meaningless is precisely why he would never have been allowed into the astronaut training program. Astronauts are heavily vetted and trained to an inch of their lives. They are men and women of immense ego, pride, and ambition.
They're picked precisely for those qualities as well as a drive for competence so they can solve virtually any problem that comes their way. It's necessary because if they weren't competent or driven, any problem on a mission would kill them. An astronaut is an investment of millions of dollars in training and any mission, even a biodome simulation in the desert, is also an investment of tens of millions of dollars. No agency would ever put a bunch of know-nothing, depressed schlubs in charge. These guys are more suitable for working at an Office Depot or a Walmart than within 10 miles of NASA.
What "Moonbase 8" Really Expresses
The Sad Astronaut genre is an expression of Hollywood writers' own emotional hangups than any real-life portrayal of astronauts or the space program. Moonbase 8 pushes the genre even further into the realm of Useless Astronauts. They fail to know how any of the machinery on their base works let alone how to repair it. This cynical take on humanity and endeavor could actually be read as an expression of the Trump Era. It assumes everyone is petty, self-absorbed, and utterly incompetent, totally ignorant of how things work and bumbling along making things worse. In the pilot, the trio passively lets their trainee, played by NFL player Travis Kelce as a preening bully, get himself killed digging a hole he had no business doing to try to find water. This coincidentally runs in parallel to Trump passively letting over 200,000 Americans die of COVID-19. It's supposed to be a comedy of dark comedy… too bad it's not funny. Just like the rest of the show. It's a show that fails to read the room, fails to be funny, yet succeeds in capturing the mood of the last 7 months. It's about a bunch of guys trapped in isolation slowly going crazy from despair, depression, and helplessness. Moonbase 8 has become another expression of life in America under the Pandemic. It's not a good show, but a shockingly timely one without ever meaning to be.
The timing of the show might be the most interesting thing about – it premiered on the night of November 7th, the day the Trump era was declared over as the election resulted in Biden winning. Its six episodes will be running in the final weeks of the Trump regime, like a final burst of anti-Science, anti-expert, anti-competence sentiment. Whether anyone would want to watch that is anyone's guess. Showtime probably though their subscribers would since they greenlit the show.
Pop culture has a tendency to capture the current mood whether it means to or not. It doesn't even have to be good, it just has to be made. That seems to be the very nature of pop culture, even when it doesn't mean to be.