Paul Feig's A Simple Favor comes out this week. Get your tickets here!
"Wait, so you're giving me the authority to tell people no?" "Well, or to tell them yes." "Shouldn't come to that."
When it comes to television, Paul Feig's name is most commonly associated with Freaks & Geeks, and for good reason. However, that's not the only show Feig created, as 2015 saw him return to television to create the science fiction comedy Other Space for Yahoo! Screen. Like its predecessor, Other Space only lasted a season, and like its predecessor, the show is excellent and infinitely rewatchable.
The writing for Other Space is top-notch, with an attention to detail that's as good or better than many contemporary series. This is evident in all aspects, but particularly in how the jokes are foreshadowed, and called back upon. Take, for example, Michael losing his leg in Episode 5, "Trouble's Brewing". The joke is foreshadowed earlier in the episode, as Michael offhandedly says “Almost lost my leg there” when stopping the elevator. However, that's not the only time it's foreshadowed; in Episode 2, "Getting to Know You", when the team is watching an instructional video that talks about cauterizing limbs, the camera goes to Michael and Tina, lingering on their reactions for a few seconds, even though the characters have not interacted much with each other at this point. In Episode 5, Michael has his leg taken from him by Tina.
Another great illustration of the excellent joke-writing on this show can be seen in Episode 4, "Ted Talks". When brainstorming ways to get Tina out of her post-breakup funk, Kent proposes “hitting her with our fists”, which plays well as a display of Kent's fundamental misunderstanding of human behavior and human interaction, in keeping with the character. However, a minute later, when the girls' night solution comes up, Natasha says “in desperate times, a non-threatening kind of male could serve as a proxy girl”, to which Kent responds “I just threatened a woman less than a minute ago.”
The quality of writing is evident in the character development as well. The pilot, "Into the Great Beyond...Beyond", uses an alien intrusion to illustrate the dreams of the crew, giving the audience a clear look at what drives most of the people on the ship right off the bat. As the season goes on, the character traits are built upon for storylines and jokes. Take, for example, Tina's bloodthirsty aggressiveness, which is first displayed in the outgoing message she creates in Episode 3, "The Death of A.R.T.". This is not only glimpsed in "Ted Talks" when she shuts down Karen's attempt to speed up the girls' night healing process, but is on full display in "Trouble's Brewing" when she and Michael go feral, as well as in Episode 6, "Powerless", when she “kills” ART. Similarly, Michael's feelings of being ignored and passed over, established in the pilot, serves as the cause of tension and conflict between Michael and Karen in Episode 7, "First Contact". His issue with how Karen treats him wouldn't land as well without the groundwork laid in previous episodes. And while Stewart's ascension to Captain is painted in the pilot in relation to how his more technically competent older sister and his former babysitter both feel about it, the rest of the season highlights Stewart's wonder at the new universe they've stumbled upon, as well as his insistence on trying to interact with alien life forms, clearly illustrating why Stewart's the best choice for the job.
The writing, however, would not land as sharply as it does without the performances to back it up, and in this respect, Other Space soars as well, as there's nary a weak link in the cast. Each performer knows how to play their characters at just the right pitch so as to not make them grating; in particular, Stewart's open optimism and unwavering desire to make everyone happy could have become very irritating in the hands of a performer less capable than Karan Soni. Similarly, Kent's quirks and idiosyncrasies could have simply felt like a collection of weird traits rather than a fully fleshed-out sympathetic character without the excellent work Neil Casey did with the role. And the performers' reactions to jokes only make them funnier; the best example of this comes in "Trouble's Brewing", where the stoic Karen, intently browsing something on her tablet with her feet up, sits up straight and backs away an inch at the sight of the spider-like robot body Kent conceived for Natasha. Very few performers could have infused an AI system with as much personality as Conor Leslie infuses Natasha with (which is a key component in selling her sweet romance with Kent), and very few performers could say “No” four times in a row in four different ways, and still make it as hilarious as Bess Rous does.
So why did such a good show last only for a season? Well, the release platform was the biggest concern. Yahoo! Screen proceeded to fold soon after the season finale of Other Space, dooming all the shows on that platform. Even during the show's run, there were frequent complaints from consumers about the lack of intuitiveness of Yahoo! Screen, as it took a convoluted manner to get to the episodes. Even if one managed to get there, the episodes frequently lagged or failed to load, and the problem only got worse as more people tried to watch.
The show itself, however, was always fantastic, with writers who deftly balanced jokes, character development, and storytelling, and performers who were more than up to the challenge. Feig himself was very enthusiastic about the show, and put a number of its cast members in his 2016 Ghostbusters. Other Space deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Freaks & Geeks, as it's another stellar addition to Feig's television output. Hopefully it'll find the same level of adoration in time.