It's virtually impossible not to make comparisons when watching Space Force. I mean... it's a workplace comedy from the creator of The Office, featuring actors from some of the most popular sitcoms in recent TV history. Not to mention, it's literally based on a real-life plan for a new branch of the U.S. military. And yet, those involved in the new Netflix series seem to not want fans to view it as a parody. Take, for example, Ben Schwartz's Space Force character, F. Tony. The government social media director is evocative of a handful of well-known figures (both real and fictional) but Schwartz insists the character is his own person.
Known formally as F*ck Tony Scarapiducci, Schwartz's character's name and occupation seems to be a mashup between social media influencer F*ck Jerry and former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. But Schwartz says that's where the similarities end.
"I made sure that the character itself had nothing to do with either one of those human beings, because I didn't want to be parodying an actual person," Schwartz tells Elite Daily. "I wanted to kind of develop a new character, give layers. I never want to feel like I'm taking it out on one person."
Netflix's Space Force was announced less than a year after Donald Trump first brought up the idea to create a United States Space Force military branch. In the time since then, the fictional Space Force and the IRL Space Force have overlapped quite a bit.
"When we started, [the real Space Force] wasn't a thing yet; it was an announcement about something that was going to happen ... I remember after we wrapped the show, someone came up to me and was like, 'You know there's a media manager for the actual Space Force?' And I was like, 'Holy sh*t, there is,'" Schwartz says. "I've never been involved in a show that has so many [parallels] — and when I say parallels, it just means the things we're drawing comedy from is literally coming out at the same exact time as our show is coming out."
But even if fans watch Space Force and decide for themselves that it really is only very loosely based on reality, there are plenty of other avenues for comparison.
When the leader of your show is Greg Daniels (the creator of The Office), your co-stars are Steve Carell, Lisa Kudrow, and John Malkovich, and you yourself are best known for playing an iconic sitcom character, you're going to have a lot of people trying to see how your current project stacks up to the past.
Even Schwartz wasn't immune to Space Force's star power when he first heard about it. "I could not believe my luck ... because it was Greg Daniels, who I would do anything for," he says. During the audition process, Schwartz was particularly anxious to meet Carell, who he calls "one of the funniest human beings in the world."
"The first time I ever met him was literally the callback audition, where you do the scene provided, and then Greg Daniels asked [us] to improvise, and it went great," Schwartz says. "That was such a good feeling. You get nervous because he's such a powerhouse, but he's so kind and he's giving and he wants the show to be great also."
But still, Space Force is not The Office, despite whatever you inferred from the show's trailers. "When you think The Office, you think a mockumentary, and this is nothing like that," Schwartz explains.
Nor is it Parks and Recreation. Schwartz may be playing another larger-than-life, social media savvy character, but there was a conscious effort to keep his beloved, obnoxious character Jean-Ralphio Saperstein fully separate from F. Tony.
"When you look at Jean-Ralphio, as he goes along, he becomes more and more of a caricature of a person, a cartoon," Schwartz says. "F. Tony is more of a real human being that you would see in the world. He really wants to impress Steve Carell's character; he confides in other people's characters. It's been really fun to play those different attributes, where you could see him wanting to get the respect and see him trying to pretend that he has this confidence when he really doesn't. We made all these different choices to make sure that they don't feel similar."
Schwartz recently revived Jean-Ralphio for the Parks and Rec virtual reunion special, which gave viewers a peek into what the fan-favorite character is up to in 2020. Of course, this reignited the old conversation about whether a Parks and Rec spinoff about the spoiled Saperstein could ever happen — but Schwartz isn't too sure about it.
"If there ever was a Parks and Rec spinoff of Jean-Ralphio, I mean, it's something that if Mike [Schur, the Parks and Rec creator] ever wanted to do it, I would 100% talk to him. I'd listen to any idea he ever had," Schwartz says. "But I remember Mike saying ... Someone brought it up in an interview with us and he had said, 'Jean-Ralphio's good in small doses ... To have a whole 30-minute show about Jean-Ralphio and his family every week for weeks would be a lot.' And I was like, 'Yeah, I get that.' It would be intense."
Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to get your Ben Schwartz fix. The actor recently voiced the titular character in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie, he has a hilarious improv comedy special on Netflix called Middleditch & Schwartz, and he's starring in a Disney+ movie that's set to come out later this year. TBH, it kind of feels like Ben Schwartz is everywhere right now — including space.
Space Force is on Netflix now.