Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Moonbase 8 introduces its wannabe astronauts in a funny and promising premiere

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Photo: Merie Wallace/Showtime

Note: All six episodes of Moonbase 8 are currently on-demand for Showtime subscribers, but we’ll be sharing our reviews on a weekly basis following each episode’s Sunday night airing. If you’re interested in a full season review of the series, Danette Chavez has you covered.


Outer space is the vessel for art’s weightiest themes: Man’s relationship to God, humanity’s quest for meaning, progress. To blast off from Earth is to confront what lies beyond, to push the limits of understanding, to recontextualize man’s place in the cosmos. It’s also, in the world of Moonbase 8, the only place where a deadbeat dad who ran his helicopter tour business in the ground can find redemption.

Such is the journey of Robert “Cap” Caputo (John C. Reilly), the ostensible head of a ragtag team of would-be astronauts at a lunar biosphere in the U.S. desert. With his colleagues, Michael “Skip” Henai (Fred Armisen) and Scott “Rook” Sloan (Tim Heidecker), Cap is trying to prove to the NASA higher-ups that he can not only survive in moon-like conditions, but thrive. They’re an ineffectual bunch, however, past their primes and lacking in leadership—Cap would rather take orders from Super Bowl Champion Travis Kelce, brought in as part of a cross-promotion with the NFL, than trust his own instincts. When the group’s water supply dries up with three weeks until a refill, Cap ignores science and process to recklessly dig a well with Kelce, resulting in the Kansas City Chief getting swallowed up by sand and shale. A cover-up ensues, as do frantic attempts at hydration.

It’s a plot-packed premiere, but it’s character that drives the episode. “Dry” is never better than when Reilly, Heidecker, and Armisen get to riff on their boys’ beliefs and backgrounds, whether it’s Rook reflecting on his years as a stoned Phish follower or Cap drunkenly saying he’d like a scholarship in his name that gives $1,000 to everyone who applies. “Dry” is efficient in this way, using the threat of death—of themselves and the program—as a means of revealing what drives them. Skip wants to follow in his astronaut father’s footsteps, while Rook wants to “spread the gospel of Jesus Christ” throughout the universe. Cap, the show’s erratically-beating heart, has fucked up his life so bad that he believes nothing short of space travel will redeem him in the eyes of his family and friends back in Honolulu.

If I have a complaint about “Dry” it’s that there’s a disconnect between the characters we get to know and the ones acting on behalf of the plot. It’s hard to buy, based on what we know of the characters, that they’d be so willing to cover up the death of a colleague, even one as bullish as Kelce. And, as funny as it is to hear three wannabe astronauts collectively realize they don’t know what NASA stands for, it nevertheless forces the viewer to ask just how dumb these guys are supposed to be. Is there a scientist on earth who would mistake champagne for a source of hydration? It’s a good bit, just tough to swallow.

Thankfully, the rapport between Reilly, Heidecker, and Armisen, forged across years and numerous collaborations, is as natural and conducive to comedy as you’d expect, their casual exchanges generating just as many laughs as their punchlines. Drinking “de-peed” water is funny, sure, but I can’t stop chuckling about that $100 Harley Davidson store gift card. There’s a cafe in there, you know. You could get something to eat.


Stray observations

  • It’s nice to see Reilly on TV again, and this is a perfect role for him: Manic, melancholic, and deeply insecure.
  • I love the tiny design of the moon rover. Whoever sits in it looks gigantic.
  • How about Kelce? “You know i need that hydration for my skin, right? For my workouts?” Great delivery. He apparently had his own E! dating show, Catching Kelce, right around the time Trump was elected. Anybody watch?
  • Drugs Rook took during his Phish days: “Marijuana, pot, grass, weed, skunk, edibles, mints, lozenges...”
  • Does Rook have, like, 12 children? It sure looked like it on his video call.
  • “It’s a tough day for football.”