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‘Moonbase 8’: Three funny guys’ lunar humor seldom lands in new Showtime series

There’s little beneath the surface of this tame sitcom starring seasoned comedy pros John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen and Tim Heidecker.

Tim Heidecker (from left), Fred Armisen and John C. Reilly play astronauts training in a lunar simulator on “Moonbase 8.”
Tim Heidecker (from left), Fred Armisen and John C. Reilly play astronauts training in a lunar simulator on “Moonbase 8.”
Showtime

In space, no one can hear you laugh.

To be fair, the Showtime series “Moonbase 8” isn’t actually set in outer space but in a simulation, and it does yield a couple of chuckles per episode.

But given the comedic credentials of the three leads, it’s a disappointingly flat and tame endeavor that falls far short of even the middling success of the recent Steve Carell vehicle “Space Force.”

Created by Jonathan Krisel, Fred Armisen, Tim Heidecker and John C. Reilly and starring the latter three, “Moonbase 8” launches with graphics informing us NASA is about to construct the first manned base on the surface of the moon and has built several simulation bases to train candidates for living and working there.

Moonbase 8, in Winslow, Arizona (such a fine sight to see …), is one such faux base. And by the looks of things, NASA must have poured hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars into the flimsy-looking operation.

Reilly plays Robert “Cap” Caputo, Armisen is Dr. Michael “Skip” Henai, and Heidecker is Professor Scott “Rook” Sloan. And the characters aren’t much more interesting than those bland nicknames. They’re all amiable, low-key, team-oriented fellows — and they’re various degrees of dim, leading one to wonder how they ever got past the NASA gift shop, let alone chosen as candidates to lead the first base station on the surface of the moon.

That’s basically the joke of “Moonbase 8,” that it’s a workplace comedy featuring guys who are a kinder, gentler version of “The Three Stooges in Orbit.”

In the series premiere, the crew has been isolated in the simulation base for 200 days, and NASA has marked the occasion by sending a $100 Harley-Davidson store gift card.

“I think it’s pretty cool, they’ve got cool leather gloves you can do,” says Rook.

Skip chimes in: “There’s a café in there, too. You could get something to eat.”

This establishes the soft-humor tone for this episode and the season on balance. Inoffensive, wry, maybe worth a slight smile, underwhelming.

Like the denizens of “Gilligan’s Island,” the crew is often presented with a dilemma that must be resolved within the confines of a roughly half-hour adventure.

In Episode One, there’s a water shortage, which leads to the inevitable scene of the men drinking “de-urinized” water (“It’s been de-peed,” assures Skip) — and the obligatory group spit-take that follows.

In various episodes, they have to contend with a prowler who is stealing items from the base; an impending cattle stampede that could go right through and over the base; Cap getting sick and placed into quarantine; and the occasional guest arrival who provides the impetus for sitcom-level conflict and somewhat dated humor. (I kinda feel the time has come and gone for “Apocalypse Now” references.)

Reilly, Armisen and Heidecker handle the material like the pros they are — some of the dialogue feels improvised and can be pretty clever.

And each episode sails by in relatively brisk fashion.

But the storylines are, at best, mildly involving and the characters so thinly drawn you don’t feel anything approaching a binge-twinge when one episode ends and another is about to begin.

This is a take-it-or-leave-it kind of show, and in a streaming/premium cable world where so much material is available, there’s no pressing need to spend your time on Moonbase 8.