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Daily DripEntertainment

Steve Carell Sips Baijiu, Fan Bingbing on Blast in Netflix’s “Space Force”

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It’s not often you see a bottle of Maotai or a tasty tofu dish making an appearance on a U.S.-based show. However, Netflix’s satirical comedy series Space Force incorporates China-related topics like Fan Bingbing’s tax evasion scandal and the art of baijiu drinking in its second season. 

Season two was released on February 18, and the reaction on Chinese social media has been largely positive following a well-received first season in 2020. 

The show, starring Steve Carrell — better known as Michael Scott from The Office, pokes fun at the Trump Administration’s launch of a space service branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.  

The new season picks up after a conflict between American and Chinese astronauts on the moon that nearly causes a war to break out between the global superpowers.

While Netflix isn’t available to viewers without a VPN on the Chinese mainland, fans in China still manage to watch the series online. On Douban, a Chinese-language online movie review platform, the series’ second season has a rating of 7.6 out of 10 with more than 3,000 reviews.

Space Force Netflix

Image via IMDb

Multiple Douban users said the highlight of the season came when General Baird (Carrell) brought up the acting prowess of Fan Bingbing to his Chinese counterpart General Gao (Kelvin Han Yee) during a welcome banquet for the Chinese delegation. 

The conversation quickly deteriorated after Gao said Fan committed tax evasion. Baird responded that she must have been drinking too much Maotai while doing her taxes — which many Chinese viewers saw the humor in, based on online comments. 

In that same scene, we see Baird struggle significantly to snatch a piece of tofu using chopsticks, before dropping it pitifully into his glass of water. 

Jimmy O. Yang Space Force

Jimmy O. Yang. Image via IMDb

We hesitate to use the word ‘hit’ when discussing the show’s reception among viewers in China — given its limited accessibility. Still, Space Force has received positive feedback for incorporating aspects of Chinese culture and famous pop-culture events. 

Many netizens have singled out the show’s executive story editor, Chinese-American actor and comedian Jimmy O. Yang, as being behind the second season’s successful inclusion of ‘Chinese characteristics.’

“It’s no wonder that many of the details [in Space Force] are less harsh than the Chinese elements in past U.S. shows,” one Douban user wrote under a thread that cites Yang, known in Chinese as Ouyang Wancheng, as the show editor. 

Yang and his father, Richard Ouyang, play scientists for the U.S. and China, respectively, in the show. In one scene, the older Yang steals the comedic limelight — nearly getting into an altercation with Dr. Mallory (John Malkovich) over the legitimacy of the U.S. moon landing. 

Another topic discussed on Douban is whether a bottle of Maotai presented by General Gao upon arriving at Space Force headquarters was a soft ad placed by the well-known Guizhou liquor company. 

Space Force Netflix

Screengrab via Netflix

Some Douban users argue that there’s no way the company would be involved, given the low value of the particular bottle in the show. 

One user — possibly a shareholder — simply wished the stock price would rise as a result. (It’s fallen significantly since the show launched, rest assured it’s unrelated.) 

Weibo users have also posted their thoughts on the latest season’s shenanigans. “After watching Space Force, I quite appreciate the American spirit of self-sabotage. I can’t do it. I have too much self-awareness,” posted one woman.  

Others chimed in that the first season, which has a 7.8 rating among 22,944 reviews on Douban, was more entertaining. 

Space Force season two was so short, it felt like I hadn’t watched anything and then it ended. It was good but not better than season one. It felt like the studio may have cut the budget. The season finale’s ending didn’t give a prelude to the next season,” posted one netizen. 

The series budget had, in fact, been cut and no announcement has been made regarding a season renewal, according to What’s on Netflix. 

Space Force Netflix

Image via IMDb

The China-focused references in Space Force speak to a larger trend in Hollywood in recent years of trying to appeal to Chinese audiences

The Chinese market share of the global box office is 25.4% — generating USD7.4 billion in 2021, according to Statista. These numbers have led many studios and filmmakers to fall in line with the Chinese government’s worldview and avoid offending Chinese audiences out of fear of losing access to China’s lucrative entertainment market.

In May 2021, actor and WWE legend John Cena apologized to the Chinese mainland for calling Taiwan a country in a promo video for the latest Fast and Furious film before it debuted in the country. Despite Cena’s faux pas, F9 went on earn nearly 217 million USD in China. 

Other major cinematic releases have been less lucky: Space Jam: A New Legacy and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings failed to make it past China’s movie censors, despite moves to appease Beijing and cater towards the local market. 

Cover image via IMDb

Ryan Gandolfo
Ryan is from South Florida and has spent seven years living and working in Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hebei. He’s written about all things China as a magazine editor and enjoys the occasional bottle of baijiu with friends while sampling the country’s legendary cuisines. He is interested in Chinese consumer trends, technology, and donkey burgers.
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