They dream of one day living on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility, but until then, they’ll toil in a ramshackle compound in a sandy crater outside of Winslow, Arizona.
In Showtime’s new six-episode comedy Moonbase 8 (Sundays at 11pm ET/PT beginning Nov. 8), Robert “Cap” Caputo (John C. Reilly), Dr. Michael “Skip” Henai (Fred Armisen) and Professor Scott “Rook” Sloan (Tim Heidecker) aren’t the archetypical physically fit, highly trained, fearless aviators of NASA’s Gemini or Apollo programs. They’re middle-aged schlubs whose only qualifications for the mission are successfully filling out the application.
The trio has been living, working and training in isolation for 200 days in the hope of getting called up for a launch to the moon. They pass the days conducting experiments of questionable scientific merit, performing household duties assigned to them by the chore wheel and eating dehydrated “beef-style stew.” They must put on their spacesuits whenever they exit the base to receive a supply drop or scare off the occasional intruder rummaging through their recycling bin.
“Those suits are crazy,” Reilly says. “They look very authentic, and I suppose you could use them for some kind of protection, but really they are costumes. We put these little fans in them, but being out there in the desert was brutal in those things. It actually made me realize the kind of commitment it really takes to live in one of those bases, because I don’t know if you’re familiar, but there’s lots of bases just like that all over.”
Say what now?
“There’s one in Utah, there’s one in Hawaii,” Reilly says. Sure enough, NASA’s Human Research Program funds bases like the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) to study people and technology in earthbound mimics of extra-terrestrial habitats.
Although conceived as an absurdist comedy, Moonbase 8 took on a strange life-imitating-art turn since the show was filmed.
“The idea of a bunch of guys training for a moon mission seemed like setting the bar very low in a funny way,” Reilly says. “It was so mundane. The moon has already been visited. All the sexy people are talking about Mars. SpaceX is completely talking about Mars. We thought it was really funny that these guys would be satisfied with just getting to the moon. But since we made the show, they’ve discovered that there’s probably a good amount of ice on the moon, and suddenly there are at least four different countries that are trying to set up bases on the moon, including us. Both this pandemic quarantine mentality and a new ambition for the moon have come since we made the show, which makes us look like real prophets, but we were just trying to make them look like unambitious people.”
With its plastic geodesic dome, greenhouse and metal shipping container, Moonbase 8 has a decidedly low-budget sci-fi movie appearance, but it might be the Taj Mahal of fake moon habitats. “When you look at the real ones, they’re a lot shittier than our set, actually,” Reilly says. “If you’ve ever seen a research station in Antarctica, it just looks like a collection of junk. Our base, even though it does look a little bit ramshackle and it’s not terribly sophisticated, it looks a lot cleaner and well-designed than most of the actual bases.”
And it has a kick-ass moon buggy. “That six-wheeled all-terrain vehicle was so fun to drive! Oh, my God!” Reilly says. “Those were invented probably in the ’60s, and probably were invented to look like something that might go on the moon. But we bought one and painted it up in that nice white paint job. That thing flies, man! A lot of the scenes where I’m doing donuts and driving super recklessly, it wasn’t too far from the truth.”
The Crew Of Moonbase 8
Robert “Cap” Caputo (John C. Reilly) Once the proud owner of a scenic helicopter tour company in Hawaii, Caputo has fallen on hard times. He lost his business, his wife and his condo, and the city of Honolulu just booted his car. Caputo hopes that a moonshot will put his earthly life back in order. “I go up to the moon, I’m not a deadbeat dad. I go up to the moon, I’m a hero,” he says.
Dr. Michael “Skip” Henai (Fred Armisen) Moonbase 8’s chief scientist, Henai wants to carry on the legacy of his father, an astronaut who led the design team for the original Apollo mission spacesuits. Henai attributes his intellect to “mostly genetics, a little education, also economics and wealth.” He spends much of his time tending to the base’s greenhouse and planting apple seeds in flower pots.
Professor Scott “Rook” Sloan (Tim Heidecker) A former Phishhead and marijuana addict, Sloan has since been evangelized as a born-again Christian. Sloan and his wife, Sue, have a dozen children and one more on the way. Sloan says he was inspired to join the Moonbase program by his pastor. “My pastor told me it would be a good idea to help spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ out into the universe,” Sloan says. Sue seems to be managing just fine without her husband. The young, attractive pastor has been helping her out a lot.
P-93 Lab Rat “Jeremy” Unusually finicky for an experimental rodent, P-93 (a.k.a. Jeremy) dislikes cheese and will only eat shredded carrots (not the other kind).