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Steve Carell plays a four-star general who heads the newly established Space Force. (Picture: Space Force/Twitter)

Panned by critics, Netflix’s Space Force finds a happy audience in China

The new comedy is getting glowing reviews on Douban, but some see it as propaganda painting China as a threat

This article originally appeared on ABACUS
For many TV critics, the new Netflix comedy Space Force isn’t all that comedic. But in China, where Netflix is unavailable, many people are finding ways to watch the show -- and they find it entertaining. Or at least they do when they’re not being offended by it.

(Beware: Space Force spoilers ahead.)

Space Force was created by Steve Carell and Greg Daniels, former showrunner for the hit sitcom The Office. Carell plays General Mark Naird, a character tasked with leading a new branch of the US military. The mission of the Space Force, given by an unnamed president who governs by tweeting, is to put “boots on the moon.”

While many viewers in the US also seem to have enjoyed the show based on ratings online, professional critics have widely panned it. It’s been called “ the year’s biggest TV disappointment” and “ astonishingly bad.” Viewers have been kinder, giving the show a 77% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Steve Carell plays a four-star general who heads the newly established Space Force. (Picture: Space Force/Twitter)
In China, where many viewers have turned to pirated episodes, people seem to be giving the show even more love. It has an 8.0 rating on review site Douban based on more than 5,600 user reviews.

How Douban went from China’s IMDB to its ‘spiritual corner’

“Ten years later and Steve Carell still has China on his mind,” one Douban user wrote, referencing a 2010 episode of The Office in which Steve Carell’s character talks about the threat of China. The user added, “I do feel offended [by the show], but I also genuinely think it’s quite funny.”

One of the most widely shared scenes in China is from the end of the show’s first episode. After the US Space Force successfully launches a satellite into Earth’s orbit, Naird and his chief scientist Adrian Mallory (John Malkovich) sit together and watch the light of the satellite moving through the sky. Then they notice a second spark, and Naird watches through a telescope as a Chinese spacecraft approaches the satellite and disconnects its two solar panels.

The scene has been uploaded to Bilibili multiple times, with the more popular clips drawing hundreds of thousands of views and hundreds of comments. Bullet comments flying across the screen show many of the people watching the clips find the scene extremely amusing.

Clips of Space Force shared on China’s Bilibili are covered with virtual laughs. (Picture: Listen你要白女票/Bilibili)
“I like that our country is so mean, it’s so cute,” reads one comment on a popular clip of the scene.

Others also poke fun at the Chinese spacecraft, which has the country's flag all over its body.

“Why make the spaceship so festive like it’s Lunar New Year,” another user commented.

Two other scenes from the show that have drawn hundreds of thousands of views on Bilibili are of a chimpanzee astronaut joining a Chinese spacecraft and a conflict between the US and China on the Moon. Many commenters also say they find it funny that China is now depicted as the biggest rival to the US in American pop culture.

“What’s not hard to read from the show is that Americans lack confidence in their own power and fear China’s rise,” one Zhihu user wrote in a post that drew more than 250 upvotes.
“It seems like China has replaced Russia as the biggest imaginary enemy in American TV shows,” another Zhihu user said.

But not all Chinese netizens find the show amusing. Like many critics, some Chinese viewers also think the show falls flat. Some enraged viewers go a step further, saying the show’s real intention is to promote the idea that China is a threat and amplify stereotypes of Chinese people.

“There are still people who say it’s comedy, that it’s making jokes and it’s fine?” one Bilibili user asked. “It’s just promoting the China threat theory in a way that’s easily accepted by the public.”

Similar comments of caution also drew dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of likes. But they were often met by other users saying people shouldn’t take a TV show so seriously.

“Little Pink must be infuriated,” said one user on Douban who gave the show four out of five stars. Little Pink, or xiaofenhong in Chinese, is a term used to refer to young online nationalists who regularly defend China from any form of criticism.

The user added, “But compared to trolling China, it also trolls itself with full force.”