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

The future crashes into the past when SpaceX arrives on Moonbase 8

Illustration for article titled The future crashes into the past when SpaceX arrives on Moonbase 8
Photo: Showtime/A24

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.

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There’s a stark difference between feeling old and being confronted with just how out of touch you really are. Everyone feels old when they see the stuff they loved as kids memed or repurposed, when the headlines swarm with unfamiliar names like Jeffree Star and Noah Centineo. We meet these moments with a smile and a shrug, absolving ourselves of understanding by accepting that it’s simply not for us. But that’s not the same as actually spending time with a younger generation, watching in horror as you’re regarded with that blend of pity and bemusement once directed at the adults in your life. You think you get it, those stares say, but you don’t. You are an alien.

For as funny as “Visitors” is, it’s also painful. Cap (John C. Reilly), Rook (Tim Heidecker), and Skip (Fred Armisen) are earnest, but they’re also pathetic, having deluded themselves into thinking a) they’re qualified to go to the Moon and b) going to the Moon will solve all of their problems. It’s been clear from the first episode that they’ll likely never launch into orbit, but it’s never been more obvious than during a visit from their neighbors at SpaceX. Billy (Adam Lambert; yes, really), Alix (Alia Shawkat), and Cooper (Thomas Mann), three Mars hopefuls from Elon Musk’s private aerospace company, have set up shop within spitting distance of the base. Cap is none too pleased at first, but his tune changes when he embraces the “grassroots, bottom-up idea” of a merger between NASA and SpaceX.

Fred Armisen, Adam Lambert
Fred Armisen, Adam Lambert
Photo: Showtime/A24

A merger with the moneyed Musk, he argues, could help NASA overcome its budget cuts, which are now impacting the base’s insurance coverage and “oxygen allowance.” Even the boys’ rations are impacted, their beloved canned bagels getting swapped out for little dehydrated ones. To stay afloat, NASA’s resorted to desperate partnerships with the NFL (R.I.P. Kelce) and Mars (the company, not the planet), and the episode begins with the trio testing out Snickers’ new honey-glazed maple bar (“A nightmare for long-haired dog owners,” declares Rook). This doesn’t sit well with Skip, who, following his flu-induced vision last week, still feels as if his intelligence is being wasted. He’s tempted, then, when Billy, his former protégé, teases that he could get him hired at SpaceX.

Cap’s idea of a merger is met with polite disbelief from the SpaceX team, who see in the base’s antiquated design and construction a hopelessly outdated operation. Where their gear is sleek and efficient, NASA’s is clunky and ineffectual. They think about the future, while Cap is still charmed by dehydrated “space food,” a bygone notion plucked from pop culture’s characterization of space travel. Alix is fascinated by Rook’s faith: “How do you rationalize scientific concepts such as string theory, Big Bang, evolution with something like Christianity?” she asks, seemingly charmed by the quaintness of it all. Sensing their condescension, Cap puffs his chest, challenging Cooper to a footrace. He may not have an Ivy League education, but surely he can best this egghead with an old-fashioned show of manliness. Unsurprisingly, he takes a nasty tumble, cracking his helmet. Rook frantically tends to the situation as if they were actually on the Moon, prompting giggles from Billy, Alix, and Cooper. They’re not cruel, these three, they just don’t care like Cap, Rook, and Skip do. For them, it’s science. For Moonbase 8, it’s redemption.

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Thomas Mann, Alia Shawkat
Thomas Mann, Alia Shawkat
Photo: Showtime/A24

Skip tells Billy he won’t be going to SpaceX, not out of devotion to his pals, I don’t think, but because they represent the future. And the future is fuckin’ bleak. Moonbase 8's NASA represents the American Dream, crumbling and hollow but beautiful in its potential. The future, meanwhile, is private equity, corporatization, and the monopolization of wealth. It’s being a judge on Battlebots because your weird green beard went viral online. The path to success grows narrower by the day.

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“Those kids are sweet, they’re dreamers,” Cap says, firmly integrating he and the others back into their shared fantasy. They’re the aliens, he implies, not us.


Stray Observations

  • The excellent song playing during Cap’s rover off-roading is “Long Way Up” by ‘80s metal outfit Jailhouse.
  • Even the base’s sci-fi movie collection is hopelessly outdated. Logan’s Run, Silent Running, and 2010. They’re “working on 2001.”
  • I love how genuinely cool they all find Billy’s beard. “He’s so cool, he looks like he’s in System of a Down or Three Doors Down or one of those groups,” says Rook.
  • Lambert was great! Moonbase 8 is scoring big with these unexpected cameos.
  • Elon Musk looks like “Leon DiCaprio,” per Rook.
  • Heidecker is so good at delivering Rook’s suburban mom sentiments: “We’re helping out NASA and we’re having a fun time doing it with these sweet treats.” Kills me.
  • I have no use for one, but now I want a Tesla Powerwall.
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Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.