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Why Tim Heidecker, John C. Reilly, and Fred Armisen avoided being like the Three Stooges for Moonbase 8 - Exclusive

The premise of Showtime's new series Moonbase 8 sounds like an idea stolen from a comedy superfan's wish list: Tim Heidecker, John C. Reilly, and Fred Armisen are a trio of less-than-stellar astronauts residing in a NASA training simulator in the Arizona desert. Their mission: to get selected to live on an actual Moon base upon the completion of its construction.

It wasn't a fan who dreamed this scenario up, however. The story is the collective brainchild of those three extremely funny actors, production company A24, and director Jonathan Krisel, who has been a guiding hand on offbeat comedy projects from Portlandia to Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!

It's an especially meta experience watching this show during a pandemic, as total isolation from the outside world with only a couple of crewmates for company is a feeling most of us can relate to like never before. The brilliance of the show is that these characters don't try to juxtapose that sheltered environment with loud and obvious jokes. It's subtle and thoughtful, with jokes that land and then offer another punch seconds later.

Tim Heidecker, who plays Professor Scott "Rook" Sloane, explained to Looper that the cast had to rely on plenty of feedback to know they were getting it right. "I find that everything I do, I learn what I'm doing by actually doing it and reflecting," he says. "You don't really know what you're doing until you're done doing it. I think there was really good feedback from A24 and Krisel and everybody saying, 'Well, this shouldn't just be the Three Stooges. This should feel like you care about these guys.'"

Tim Heidecker on how Moonbase 8 found its soul

Each of these main characters has a very distinct personality. Rook, for instance, is a Christian hoping to deliver the Lord's word to the universe. Meanwhile, Reilly's Robert "Cap" Caputo is a former tour pilot who claims to have a military background, and Armisen's Dr. Michael "Skip" Henai grew up in the shadow of his astronaut father. It's easily apparent that if not for their absurd situation, they probably wouldn't have found one another or become friends. Their respective idiosyncrasies, though, make them a bonded, believable team. You do end up caring for them; they're the underdogs who lack the expertise of competing astronauts, and the show emphasizes the value of that reality.

Heidecker attributes that mutual chemistry to the combined teamwork of cast and crew. "Those kinds of choices were made early on and reflected in the way we wrote the scripts to be somewhat consistent with the way the characters behave and all that basic stuff," he explains, "but I think it really was a mix of the editing and the score and the performances that give it that emotional feeling that reveals itself after you've really made it."

The six-episode first season of Moonbase 8 is currently available on Showtime.

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