John C. Reilly and Fred Armisen Lead a Hilarious Gang of Would-Be Astronauts in ‘Moonbase 8’

Moonbase 8” may have actors in astronaut suits doing their best American hero poses in the ads, but it’s really a comedy about the wackiness of most workplaces. Space colonies are big now in dramas and sitcoms, maybe because many of us Amercians dream of leaving the planet, especially in 2020. This one is about how you can find quirky matchups in any field. 

Instead of lots of spaceships and galactic shots, the show is set in the confined desert locale of its title. You see, no one here is actually on the Moon. They’re in a simulation in the Arizona desert. Leading the pack of would-be astronauts living at Moonbase 8 is Cap (John C. Reilly), who wants to get off Earth to escape classic life hassles like a broken marriage. Joining him is Skip (Fred Armisen), who is descended from astronaut royalty, and Rook (Tim Heidecker), a devout Christian who seeks guidance from the Lord, wants to impress his big religious family and hopes to be a cosmic missionary. However life as a NASA guinea pig is not always the best. The three have to recreate the same kind of conditions Moon colonists will face. This includes rationing resources like water and surviving on dehydrated food. They even have to suit up if anyone wants to go outside into the hot desert (which of course has no similarity to the cold lunar surface). Coyotes and thieves also might be prowling the area. 

“Moonbase 8” is yet another refreshingly small and funny offering from Armisen, who has really been standing out as a towering creator and producer of comedy even more than as an actor. Like HBO’s “Los Espookys” last year, Armisen knows how to build on a familiar premise with an excellent team. Heidecker, also an experienced content creator, joins Armisen in turning “Moonbase 8” into a fun romp full of characters we can laugh or weep at. Their lunar experiment becomes a chortling microcosm of clichés, workplace satire and characters. Guest appearances abound to contribute throughout the season to the show’s punchlines. Even Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce appears as an astronaut who reads GQ and intimidates Cap with almost homoerotic tension. In their desert neighborhood the Moonbase 8 astronauts also have to deal with awkward competition from an Elon Musk-funded Mars project involving a cocky group, Billy (Adam Lambert), Alix (Alia Shawkat) and Cooper (Thomas Mann). But it’s not so much about poking fun at figures like Musk, it’s about the strange rivalries or situations that develop between franchises. When Cap, Skip and Rook receive the Musk crew they are embarrassed at how shabby it looks. At least Billy hooks them up with some nice Tesla power gear. 

The astronauts of “Moonbase 8” deal with problems at the base the way befuddled office workers face crises without a firm manager around. In the pilot someone apparently gets killed in a freak accident, so Cap and the gang try to figure out if they should even report it. In another episode someone strips their lunar rover and sure enough, they begin to run out of water. Cap gets the bright idea to move the base without realizing they are encroaching in gun-toting rancher territory. They find out soon enough when cattle charge through the area and a grumpy local rancher takes shots at the astronauts, demanding they leave. At the end of the day these are keen scientific minds living out in the wild, so they devise a hilariously explosive solution to the cattle issue. Amid such developments the characters also have conversations full of lively chatter anyone stuck in office hell can relate to. Cap doesn’t want to return to “handing out barf bags” at some airline and Skip wonders if his life story could make a good screenplay. Rook zooms with his family who assure him he is doing God’s work, even if he is privately plagued by pious doubts. 

As with many shows produced by Armisen, “Moonbase 8” is so enjoyable because it understands how to just be funny while presenting characters that are likeable. The casting is key in how Reilly and Armisen are both masters are being funny without trying, their natural humor comes from a down to earth understanding of relatable oddness. There’s no need to get too raunchy or over the top, human quirks are gut-busters all by themselves. This show may not leave Earth, but it’s a pleasant and welcome escape. 

Moonbase 8” season one premieres Oct. 8 on Showtime with new episodes airing Sundays at 11 p.m. ET