I barely have time to write reviews of new broadcast TV shows so I rarely write reviews of shows on streaming networks. But there has been such a lack of interesting new shows on broadcast that I need to point out a couple of really interesting series recently released on streaming. (See my recent blog “Is Broadcast TV Dead?“)
We are going to start off with a new offering on Apple TV+ titled “For All Mankind“. It’s a bit of alternate history sci-fi about what might’ve happened if the Soviet Union had landed on the moon before us. In real history, once we had made it to the moon first, the US visited the moon 6 times but with nothing left to prove, the space race was over and decades later we still haven’t been back. But in this alternate history, the space race continued.
The series is created and produced by Ronald D. Moore who is most known for the reboot version of Battlestar GalacticaClick and the romantic time travel series Outlander as well as several Star Trek series and films.
Our main characters are fictional astronauts and their families but most of the other characters in the series are based on the real life people who worked on the space program. Fictional Astronaut Edward Baldwin is played by Joel Kinnaman who has been in a variety of TV shows but is most known for playing detective Holder in “The Killing“. We also have astronaut Gordo Stevens played by Michael Dorman, a NASA engineer Margo Madsen played by Wrenn Schmidt and a memorable performance by Chris Bauer as real-life NASA astronaut/manager Deke Slayton. Colm Feore appears in three episodes as former German rocket scientist Warner von Braun who oversaw the design and construction of the Saturn V moon rocket. You can click on the names in this or any of my other entertainment blogs to see their resumes on IMDb.com. I won’t bother mentioning their many roles.
Before writing this review I have seen all 10 episodes and I’m pleased to report that it is already renewed for season 2. There are going to be some minor plot spoilers in the rest of this but I don’t think it will ruin your viewing. After the Russians landed on the moon one month ahead of Apollo 11, the US goes ahead and sends Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon as planned. But I will spoil the story this much to say that this mission doesn’t go exactly as smoothly as history’s real Apollo 11. The series also covers Apollo 12 but makes no mention of the accident suffered by real-life Apollo 13. There is a time jump in the series and from that point forward all of the missions are fictional.
As mentioned before, the story follows the continuing space race between the US and the Soviet Union. It now becomes a race to build a permanent moon base. On one of the missions, water is discovered in the permanent dark areas of Shackleton crater near the Moon’s south pole. In real life, water wasn’t discovered there until a few years ago when satellite reconnaissance detected the presence of frozen water. This early discovery makes a permanent moon base feasible and both countries race to build a moon base on the edge of this crater some distance apart from each other.
The Soviets also get one up on us by landing the first woman on the moon paralleling the true life events where they put the first woman in orbit years before we did. In this alternate history, we respond by rapidly recruiting and training a group of female astronauts and several of the episodes through the middle of the season forward deal with that story. Not only does the series deal with women’s issues it also touches on LGBT themes. It dramatically illustrates the way such issues were dealt with or not dealt with in the 70s and 80s. We get a glimpse of the political background of this alternate history which has some interesting twists and turns as well. The world these characters live in feels very real. An excellent bit of alternate world building on the part of the show’s creators and writers.
The writing is excellent. The acting is wonderful. The drama is compelling. There are surprises and tragedies that will break your heart. I will warn you don’t watch episode 9 unless you are prepared to watch the finale episode 10 immediately following.
I have to admit a bias because I grew up in the Apollo era and have always been a spaceflight enthusiast. But I don’t think that you have to be a space history buff or a spaceflight enthusiast to really enjoy this series.
For the most part the science is reasonably accurate. There are a couple of places near the end where I thought they glossed over a couple of issues for the sake of keeping the story moving. However I found much less of what I call “plot driven technology” then I find in many sci-fi series. I should mention that the special-effects are excellent as well for a TV series. Also a big tip of the hat to the set decorators. On the wall of one of the astronaut’s homes there is a wall decoration identical to one that has been hanging in my living room since the early 1970s.
I was fortunate enough to get a free subscription to Apple TV+ when I purchased my new iPhone 11. There are at least 2 other series available on Apple TV+ that are worth checking out.One of them is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi series titled “See” starring Aquaman star Jason Momoa which I will review soon here. And a drama series called “The Morning Show” starring Jennifer Aniston which I have not yet seen but which earned a number of Golden Globe nominations. Ultimately whether or not it’s worth the subscription price to you is something you alone will have to decide. Overall Apple TV+ does not have a huge catalog of programming. There are less than a dozen original series but I suppose it will grow over time.
I’m giving this a strong recommendation of “I Really like It“. If you do have access to Apple TV+ this is something you should definitely check out. Really quality stuff with more to come next season.