Moonbase 8

3 out of 5

Created by:  Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker, Jonathan Krisel and John C. Reilly

covers season 1

The lowest key of the low-key.

While the thought of tossing (based on their most comic personas) nerdy goof Fred Armisen, weirdo non-humorist Tim Heidecker, and naive goober John C. Reilly into a room together as NASA astronauts seems like an instant recipe for something equally madcap, amusingly nonsensical, and probably outlandish. Thoughts of Portlandia, Tim & Eric, and various Will Ferrell films likely bubble through as touchpoints, and if you’re a fan of any of those things, you tune in with eyes wide open. Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd on music? Sure, all the weirder.

All of those elements are absolutely in Moonbase 8 – although this is Tim in a variant of his On Cinema persona, sort of the “wholesome” version if On Cinema Tim is the mirror universe edition – but even from the opening credits and theme, which strike a tonal balance between sincerity and silliness, you might suss out that this isn’t what you’re expecting. A plot read of the first episode – which features man-children being bullied by other man-children; pokes at blind faith; paralleling violence against the nonplused, dry response to it – and then watching the first episode, which doesn’t go for direct laughs from any of these bits, is suggestive of the mix that’s being effected on Moonbase 8. A much clearer indication of tone is co-creator / co-writer Jonathan Krisel’s Baskets, in which the most out-there setup is, generally, handled with innocence, and – moreso in its later seasons – an undercurrent of emotion.

Moonbase 8’s undercurrent is that of sticking together. Fred, Tim and John’s “Moonbase” is actually a NASA training facility in an Arizona dessert, in which the trio are prepping to – one day – go to the moon, by treating their Earthbound landscape as that planet: trying to recycle water, growing their own indoor crops, wearing spacesuits when going outside, and etcetera. Their only contact with the outside world is incidental – locals wandering into their camp – or through computerized messages from NASA, or via other trainees who seem to come and go to the base at a speed that doesn’t match the months+ our lead trio have been there. None of these things are treated as recurring gags, which is nice – you never quite know what an episode is going to focus on, though at a high level, it’s some distraction which temporarily throws the three into disarray before deciding to – yeah – stick together, and ride out this NASA thing.

As with Baskets, it’s rarely laugh out loud funny, with the humor coming more through the pay off of recognizing these personas as people, and letting the whole season play out with them ping-ponging off of one another, apologizing and putting bandaids on their bumps. And as with Baskets, things start to come out – very slowly – about the characters’ personalities that are amusing, but also serve to further humanize them, and also suggest the how and why of these three even working for NASA.

It’s not a show I’d say you recommend; it’s something you have to stumble in to, but then it’s something you stay with, and hopefully something that’s given a chance to get weirder and even more non-humorish and then also funnier and smarter in seasons to come.