Stewart Lipinski is doomed to fail. Tasked with mapping out the universe in the year 2105, Stewart is either given a crew of screw ups and those who resent his authority. But, gosh darnit, if Stewart isn’t going to make the best out of it. That’s what characterizes Stewart, played by Karan Soni (Safety Not Guaranteed), this wonderful, unflagging positivity that permeates the rest of the show. It’s an affectionate tribute to low budget sci-fi adventures series. Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu are the most meta wink and a nod to this homage, although it’s certainly not hard to see in the lovingly low budget costumes and set. Those captains tended to be handsome rogues with total control over their ship, not constantly on the brink of utter chaos. In any other context, Stewart would be the funny sidekick, dotingly playing number two to that dashing leading man type. But in Other Space, Stewart is king.
It makes sense for a Paul Feig show that a place of power is where Stewart should land. The Freaks and Geeks creator has made a career out of placing the unexpected perspective in the place of lead storyteller, which extends from a wedding love story centered around female friendship rather than romantic love to Ghostbusters who dare to only have XX chromosomes. Other Space was originally set up at NBC, an apt fit considering in 2008 Feig described the show as a sci-fi version of The Office, before Feig reclaimed the rights and set it up at Yahoo. At it’s heart, Other Space is a workplace comedy, although with a decidedly different setting than, say, an office park in Scranton.
Stewart’s second in command is his sister, Karen (Bess Rous), who is not given her own ship if only because she’s terrifying. Big sis always seems to be coming in second to Stewart, who waltzed in to take over the debate team after her hard years of practice, and even stole the role of Juliet right out from under her (Karen was relegate to nurse). Coming even farther behind Stewart is his former babysitter Michael (Eugene Cordero) who just wants someone to pay attention to him. On the less capable side of the ship is Kent Woolworth (Neil Casey), who was forced onto the crew by his powerful mother; Zalian (Hodgson), a who once great engineer-turn-burnt out space hippie; and Tina (Milana Vayntrub), Stewart’s crush who doesn’t even know why she’s on the ship to begin with. The crew is looked over by Natasha (Conor Leslie), a computer programmed to be a black jack dealer and seems much more concerned with outfit choices than saving the crew. Then there is ART (Beaulieu) , Zalian’s robot buddy, who wakes up annoyed, with perhaps the episode’s funniest, nerdiest line: “Can’t you see I’m dreaming of electric sheep?”
The first episode isn’t a perfect affair, it’s stilted at first, but becomes wonderfully surreal once they are hurtled into the alternate dimension of the title where their deepest desires are acted out. Give the crew something to do and they begin to gel as a cast truly feel comfortable in their characters. Rous’ does not seem as imposing as she’s initially made out to be, more pissed off than anything else, but her vulnerability at her firing is eventually what gives her the power she otherwise lacked. Soni, especially, begins to feel like a leader, his lovely positivity, coupled with an inherent awkwardness, making him the strongest character and the best leader, even if it does not seem like it at first. Hopefully, this evolution in the first episode portends the cast becoming a fuller and stronger ensemble as the show continues.
- Hey folks! Check back every Friday at noon for regular reviews of Other Space.
- Other Space differs from most of other shows I have gotten the chance to analyze because I knew quite a bit about even before I started watching it. In a New Yorker profile of casting genius Allison Jones, called “The Nerd Hunter,” Stephen Rodrick uses Other Space as a test case to show how Jones goes through the process of filling roles, and her track record, especially with Feig, is exemplary. The hot dogs Stewart doles out to the crew in the first scene, for example was originally written in as a banana. Hot dogs are clearly funnier. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes look at both the show and Jones, and I highly recommend it.
- Dave Franco! Spoiler: He’s not a fulltime cast member, but I love him so I’ll take it.