There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services, and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
“Into the Great Beyond… Beyond” is the first episode of the short-lived science fiction sitcom Other Space.
In spring 2015, the streaming service Yahoo Screen tried to compete with Netflix and Hulu by launching its own high-profile original programming, including the sixth season of the canceled sitcom Community and the first (and so far only) season of Other Space. Community drew more attention at the time, but in the years since, fans of misfit shows have spread the word about the oddball Other Space. It’s a different kind of workplace comedy: it’s about the crew of a spaceship that gets dangerously lost on its inaugural mission.
Why watch now?
Because the show lovingly spoofs the dense mythology and interpersonal dynamics of space operas like Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is out in theaters this weekend.
Before the original Star Wars was released in 1977, American science fiction movies were largely divided into two types: flat B-picture adventures, and artsy, intellectual exercises. George Lucas fused the whiz-bang of the former with the visionary style of the latter, and he added a narrative approach that borrowed equally from old motion picture serials, elegiac Hollywood Westerns, and richly detailed pulp novels. Much of the original film’s appeal sprung from the sense that this “galaxy far, far away” had a history and population beyond what Lucas put on the screen.
The viability of a Star Wars prequel like Solo speaks to the ongoing success of Lucas’ experiment. Post-1977, science fiction movies and TV shows tend to suggest early and often that there’s much more to their universes than we might ever get to see. Potential franchises tease mysteries, histories, and deeper character connections, all to hook in their audiences.
In Other Space, the first episode introduces Stewart Lipinski (played by Karan Soni), a young cadet in training to explore the galaxy as part of the 22nd century’s ambitious but increasingly unpopular Universal Mapping Project. Stewart’s UMP bosses think the public might take a liking to this goofy youngster, so they put him in charge of his own ship, the Cruiser, with his far more qualified sister Karen (Bess Rous) as his resentful second-in-command. Aside from one UMP-mandated crew member — Kent Woolworth (Neil Casey), the weirdo son of the company’s head honcho — Stewart gets to pick the rest of his co-workers, including his unrequited crush-object Tina (Milana Vayntrub), his cool childhood babysitter Michael (Eugene Cordero), a sexy computer named Natasha (Conor Leslie), and legendary engineer Zalien Fletcher (Joel Hodgson).
“Into the Great Beyond… Beyond” quickly sets up who these people are and gives some sense of where they’re coming from. It also leaves a lot for viewers to discover later, as the eight-episode first season unfolds. Though each half-hour functions as a standalone story, it’s really best to watch this show from the beginning, to pick up the nuances of the characters and their experiences. Like the best genre pieces, Other Space is a saga that explores its themes and setting through the plot as much as through the dialogue. That begins with episode 1, where an undersupplied, sloppily staffed Cruiser goes through a mysterious warp zone and immediately comes under attack from insidiously clever aliens.
Who it’s for?
This show is for science fiction devotees with good senses of humor, but it’s also for fans of cult TV faves Freaks and Geeks, Superstore, and Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Other Space was created by Paul Feig, a former stand-up comic and the writer-director of Spy and Ghostbusters (2016). Feig previously created Freaks and Geeks with Judd Apatow, and a lot of that show’s sensibility carries over into Other Space — particularly in the way Stewart gets a little power and immediately leverages it into trying to relive his adolescence. Similarly, one of the Yahoo series’s main writers was Owen Ellickson, who’s currently working on Superstore, another sitcom about well-meaning but heavily flawed people just trying to get through another tedious day on the job.
Other Space is first and foremost a low-key, character-driven comedy, but it’s also a fully functioning science fiction show, filled with futuristic technology and freaky intergalactic threats. Some of the humor is slyly referential (like when Zalien reveals his homemade robot A.R.T., who has the voice of Hodgson’s old MST3K castmate Trace Beaulieu), some is delightfully nerdy (like when the warp zone briefly turns everyone in the crew into babies, except Natasha, who becomes a Pong game), and some is just whimsically goofy (like the way the fashion trends of the future have men wearing “collar balls” around their necks instead of ties). There’s a lot more going on here than just “dweebs in space”… perhaps even enough to inspire a string of Other Space spinoff movies one day.
Where to see it
Yahoo Screen no longer exists (at least not under that name or business model), but every episode of Other Space is still available for free on Yahoo Entertainment. The easiest way to access them all is via the show’s Tumblr.