Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
From left: Neil Casey, Karan Soni, Bess Rous, Eugene Cordero, and Milana Vayntrub

Paul Feig still wants you to make room for Other Space

One Season Wonders, Weirdos And WannabesOne-Season Wonders, Weirdos, And Wannabes considers the merits of short-lived TV shows.

Paul Feig created an ideal binge watch for today… that ended four years ago. His sci-fi sitcom, Other Space, which debuted April 14, 2015, on the ill-fated streaming service Yahoo! Screen, is perfectly suited to a mini-marathon in these quarantimes. At just four hours (eight half-hour episodes), you could watch the season-one travails of the crew of the UMP Cruiser, led by Captain Stewart Lipinski (Karan Soni), in less time than it would take you to make sourdough bread (we assume—that’s one stay-at-home hobby we never picked up.) The cast is full of bright comedic talents, including newer (at the time) talents like Soni, Eugene Cordero, and Milana Vayntrub. And with Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu in its crew, Other Space even boasts a mini-Mystery Science Theater 3000 reunion.

It’s great escapist fare, even if this band of misfits isn’t especially adept at space exploration. Other Space starts off with a premise similar to Star Trek: Voyager’s, but instead of accidentally riding an energy wave way off into the Delta Quadrant, the Cruiser crew unknowingly enters a wormhole or “ripple” on their first trip out of port together and ends up in uncharted lands or some “other space.” Stewart, who’s dreamed of being on a starship since he was a kid, sees this as a great opportunity, while almost everyone else views it as an inconvenience—especially Tina (Vayntrub), who left her great love Ted (Spy’s Björn Gustaffson) behind when she was ordered to board the Cruiser. Over the course of the season, away missions go awry, robots rebel, and conspiracies are uncovered.

Despite the setting, the series doesn’t quite inspire a desire to live vicariously through the exciting adventures of Stewart, his first officer and sister Karen (Bess Rous), and science officer/science experiment Kent (Neil Casey). Other Space’s combination of close quarters, questionable food supply (even in the future, fudge doesn’t make for a good breakfast), and a foreboding “outside” will instead feel awfully relatable. You might not have a wisecracking robot named A.R.T. (voiced by Beaulieu, with some puppeteering help from Sherry O’Connor) negotiating to use your bathroom, but the growing sense of cabin fever and the blurring line between home and work space will still hit close to, er, home.

Now Other Space is once again available to stream, thanks to yet another new and free streaming service, Dust, ready to be discovered by anyone who didn’t have the chance to watch the show on Yahoo Screen or the Tumblr page created and proselytized by Feig himself. The Freaks And Geeks creator is no stranger to the one-season wonder and having the rug pulled out from under by network executives. But in an interview with The A.V. Club, Feig says it’s “not hyperbole” to describe the cancellation of Other Space as “the greatest disappointment in my career.”

“I was so proud of that show,” Feig says of Other Space, which he first conceived of in 2004. “We put so much work and time into it. Something I created years before and spent years trying to get made was suddenly something that came out but didn’t really get the chance for anybody to see it.”

When Other Space premiered in 2015 on Yahoo! Screen, it represented, among other things, the potential of new and niche streaming services (another element relevant to today’s expanding programming landscape.) The sci-fi/workplace comedy hybrid had something to offer fans of Star Trek and The Office alike. Soni’s Stewart is a Jimmy Stewart type: A well-meaning everyman with an idiosyncratic inflection (though a Jimmy Stewart character never fantasized about a pansexual threesome.) As his overly ambitious sister Karen, Rous is fierce but also racked with insecurity at coming in second to her less competent brother. Hodgson’s burnout engineer Zalian is a standout, especially in concert with his robotic buddy A.R.T. (there’s even a moment when the two riff while watching TV footage), but he’s only one of several reliable sources of laughs. Vayntrub and Cordero make Tina and Michael, respectively, into beautiful fools with untapped resourcefulness. Conor Leslie more than holds her own as the ship’s computer Natasha, who is effectively sequestered from the group. (Feig remains grateful to Allison Jones, who cast both Other Space and Freaks And Geeks: “Anybody you like in comedy was basically found by Allison Jones.”)

But Feig believes its fundamental appeal is even broader: “Having a group of people stuck together who don’t really know each other and may not even really get along—that to me is just a recipe for fun, relatable stories.” That idea has been part of his oeuvre from the beginning—high school is nothing if not a place where people from all walks are thrown together—and continues to run through even the mismatched pairings at the center of The Heat and A Simple Favor. The conflicting personalities and competing energies just happen to also make for great workplace comedy, because “everybody can relate to the idea of being stuck for a big part of your day with people you either kind of know or maybe you don’t really like.” Other Space is “that to the nth degree,” the filmmaker says, “because now you’re trapped with those people for eternity, in a very confined space.”

Karan Soni stars as Captain Stewart Lipinski in Other Space
Karan Soni stars as Captain Stewart Lipinski in Other Space
Photo: Dust

Though it didn’t set out to compete with more action-packed or heady sci-fi franchises, Other Space manages in some ways to be even more forward-thinking. As Brandon Nowalk wrote for The A.V. Club in 2015, “Other Space flies past the real final frontier into a future where bisexuality is the norm.” Gender norms are tweaked throughout: Male officers at Universal Mapping Project (the corporation that funds space travel in the show) wear skirt suits like they came off a Jean Paul Gaultier runway; collar balls have replaced neck ties; and instead of a golf course, it’s implied that girls night out is the setting for backroom deals and the exchange of insider knowledge. Sexual orientation is a spectrum, but there are no Very Special Episodes or even moments dedicated to queerness. That information is just a part of characters like Stewart, Karen, and Tina.

That sense of fluidity was important for Feig and his team, including showrunner Owen Ellickson and writers like Shelby Fero (a former A.V. Club contributor). “That was a big thing for us,” Feig says. “We loved the idea that the future is very fluid. Even when I wrote the pilot back in 2004, I loved the idea that all the men are wearing dresses. I just wanted to kind of go, ‘Yeah, in the future, it doesn’t matter. You’re whatever you are. That should be cool.’” The fact that “there’s no judgment” is one of the ways the show carries on the speculative traditions of science fiction. Feig was inspired by the President George W. Bush’s (and Karl Rove’s) opposition to marriage equality, and the way LGBTQ+ rights regularly become a wedge issue. “They all got in on it, scaring everyone with this ridiculous bogeyman of gay marriage. That was part of the influence in creating the show, but it was always something that we’ve wanted to do. We love that idea that everybody’s very fluid on the show, because I do see that in the future. You see it already, especially in younger generations.”

Other Space
Other Space
Photo: Dust

So what happened to bring about Other Space’s precipitous end? Feig says that Yahoo did “put a very decent budget into the show that allowed us to have those sets and cool special effects.” While Other Space doesn’t have the same visual panache as say, Star Trek: Discovery, which launched only two years later in 2017, it’s still a great-looking show. 2015 certainly felt like the right time for a humorous yet earnest look at the rigors of space exploration, especially when new platforms like Yahoo! Screen were creating space for innovative comedies, including Community. Other Space was mostly well received by critics, though The New York Times’ Neil Genzlinger found it trucked in far too familiar territory. Feig still feels the sting of that review, but notes that a significant part of the problem was the fact that the platform changed promotional tacks after picking up the series. In a meeting before the launch, Feig was told, “‘We’re actually not going to do traditional marketing, we’re gonna go more through the site and do it through Yahoo and our algorithms.’ And I was just like, ‘Oh no, I smell trouble. [Laughs.] Because the marketplace is so tough; you have to get known, you gotta get the word out.”

Feig is still trying to get the word out—especially now that you can stream Other Space on Dust. With audiences exploring new streaming options and making their way through ever-expanding “catch-up lists,” there’s no better time to binge a sci-fi comedy that remains an incisive reflection of the present day, five years after its premiere (and 16 years after Feig first started writing it.) And the series creator still holds out hope that he’ll be able to create new adventures for the not-quite-fearless crew of the Cruiser; he’d bring the show back “in a heartbeat” if it ever got picked up again. But as with Freaks And Geeks, Feig can already trace the legacy of his short-lived series. Other Space served as a launching pad for great performers like Soni—who’s since moved on to steal scenes opposite Daniel Radcliffe in Miracle Workers—but it also gave Feig a chance to work with and expand his repertory players, including Neil Casey, who co-starred in 2016’s Ghostbusters. “My wife and I never had kids,” Feig says, so these actors are “are my children in a way, I feel very parental towards them. [Laughs.] Seeing all of these people, from Freaks And Geeks and Other Space, going on to have great careers… you get so happy that their talent was seen, and you get really happy that you were able to see what the rest of the world was going to see in them before anybody else got to see it.” Just another one of the ways Other Space was prescient.

One-season wonder, weirdo, or wannabe? Wonder.

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