The Guide and Green Guide reviewer Brad Newsome lamented the show’s “ill-fitting decision to more or less endorse the very things it sets out to satirise”,while The Verge bluntly labelled it an “astonishingly bad show”. On review aggregator Metacritic, the show holds a 47 per cent rating.
Such a critical walloping might’ve been expected to sink the series, but it has proved popular with Netflix’s viewers: both in the US and Australia, it’s spent the past week since its launch in the No.1 spot on the platform’s daily top-trending list.
While Netflix remains notoriously secretive around its viewing figures (the company declined to provide such data for Space Force), global media analyst Parrot Analytics says its own data supports the streamer’s claim.
Samuel Stadler, Parrot Media’s marketing vice-president, says in the first five days since the show’s launch (May 29 to June 2), Space Force was also the fourth-most in-demand digital original in Australia overall, behind Disney+’s The Mandalorian, Apple TV’s noir thriller Defending Jacob, and CBS All Access’ The Good Fight. It had almost 20 times the demand of the average TV show in Australia, a level the company labels as “outstanding”.
“Only 2.7 per cent of all TV shows, linear included, achieve such a level of success,” says Stadler.
The show’s popularity isn’t just a local anomaly either, as it enjoyed 51 per cent more demand in the United States.
Stadler says such results prove Netflix, with its 182 million subscribers, “doesn’t have to make shows that are universally loved to be successful”.
“All they need is a show that’s well-timed, shows that can be used to bring in new subscribers, and shows that can be used to mitigate the risk of subscribers leaving the platform,” he says. “The interesting thing for Netflix is that it can be a show that many people want, or one that just a few people want really, really badly.”
Space Force‘s success has greater significance when considering the wider streaming wars, with a growing list of platforms jostling for streaming licenses to evergreen legacy shows such as Friends and Seinfeld.
Last June, Netflix lost the ever-popular The Office from its library after NBCUniversal paid $US500 million ($715 million) for streaming rights to the series. As such, Space Force appears a clear bid to get Carell and Daniels’ names back into the Netflix fold.
“Netflix don’t need to focus on having the most profitable show or the most popular show for the entire population; if they can create the most popular show for a niche, that’s enough. The combined total of all of the niches they’re targeting, that will get them the long-term subscription growth they’re after,” says Stadler.
“[With Space Force], the general population might go, ‘That’s so bad.’ But all the Steve Carell fans go, ‘That was fantastic!’ As far as Netflix are concerned that’s an absolute win, ’cause now they have a show they’ve made that’s going to draw in every Steve Carell fan on the planet.
“It’s a different evaluation of asking, ‘Did we do a good job with this show?’ Critics’ reviews? Probably not as important to Netflix as asking the question, ‘Did we meet the niche’s needs with this title?’ It seems they have.”
Robert Moran is a culture reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age