Happy quarant-streaming, friends! So here's how I found my way to Apple TV+'s For All Mankind…
Been meaning to burn through that streaming service free trial? Have you been meaning to finally catch up on your watch list but have just been to busy? It may not be ideal, but this is the perfect time to finally start all those series you've wanted to.
So that's exactly what my Dad and I did, and it's the reason we finally activated our trial of Apple TV+. I know there's been some resistance towards getting it and a lukewarm reception for the big flagship shows didn't exactly help, but just hear me out.
I've written about the streaming service's alt-history space race series For All Mankind before – but after finishing the entire first season, it exceeds every single space-loving expectation I had.
In case you haven't seen the show, this review has spoilers for the first season (everything that's been released so far). We still have no idea on when the second season of For All Mankind is coming to the app, but I hear it was nearly finished with their season before the shutdown.
This show gave me serious Mad Men vibes – but maybe that's just because it's set in the 60s and Karen Baldwin is a total Betty Draper-type, but I digress. Now, I loved Mad Men, but not nearly as much as I love space. So this show is an easy sell for me, naturally, but I will try and keep this review as objective as possible.
We start off with USSR cosmonaut Alexei Leonov being the first man on the moon, and the United States staring down a perceived political disadvantage under a Communist controlled moon. (In reality, he was the first human to spacewalk, not land on the moon. Just in case you slept through history, that was Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin).
The space race is far from over though, as they constantly seek to gain firsts on the moon, but are beaten yet again by the Soviets. First woman on the moon? Anastasia Belikova. Womp womp – all hail Soviet society.
But just as it looks like the Cold War has frozen out the USA, they turn it around and find ice on the moon and then send up the first permanent base on the moon. Jamestown and NASA, for the win!
And in the post-credits scene, we see…a nuke get shot into space? If you're confused as to what that scene was, allow me to explain. That massive beast of a rocket launched from out of the Pacific Ocean was based on a real conceptual rocket called the Sea Dragon. It was the first in a design of the super heavy class of rockets (termed BDB, for big dumb booster) and engineered to be cost effective, which means instead of building new launchpads for it, they launched it from the ocean – nature's launchpad. (Space and the Ocean do share many similarities, but that is a lecture for another time.)
Of course, this was a jump forward in time as the launch happened nearly a decade after Ellen took command of Jamestown. It will be interesting seeing how they handle season 2 – will we time jump again, or hop right back into 1983 and continue events after the launch of Sea Dragon?
Or – we could be going back, picking up where we left off with Ellen and work our way to Sea Dragon, which would be the ending of season 2? I don't know what direction they're taking this in, and I cannot wait to find out.
At any rate, that's a ways off and we're here to talk about what we have. Let's see – overall pros and cons of first season?
Likes: I found the alternative space history fascinating – it blends fiction and history seamlessly to make for a "what if" story that even Marvel would be astounded by. Of course, with that, the attention to accuracy and details in the recreations of the sets, costumes, and even vernacular is nothing short of perfection.
Most notably their newscasters – they completely nailed the Mid-Atlantic dialect of the time that was the standard of television and radio presenters of the day. I also want to call out Margo's accent as well while I'm on the topic: it's different from Tracy's southern accent, as it should be. Margo grew up in Huntsville, Alabama (affectionately dubbed Rocket City, USA on account of their rocket development and manufacturing industry), and her accent is spot on for where, when, and how she grew up. To most people in Hollywood, a Southern accent is a Southern accent – but as someone who grew up and resides around the specific dialect, they're all very different. Texas is not the same as Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, or the Carolinas – they're all different. But I've gotten off on a tangent.
Performances aside (though they're all phenomenal), the show did lean in a little too much into the dramatic tension of the space program. Yes, there's about a million and twelve things that could go wrong and jeopardize the entire operation (which they do show), but dragging each one out starts to feel like the cheap tactic they use on elimination shows when they're about to send someone home. We know space is dangerous – you don't have to keep building the tension; we already care about the characters and are invested in the situations.
The other con that my Dad and I both agree on is that we could have done with a little less "modern" issues stuck into the plot. Yes, immigration and gay acceptance are still hot button topics just as they were in the 1970s, but at points it did feel like they were telling the same stories about those issues over and over and over again. They got predictable – and they were honestly the only predictable part in a season full of surprises and twists.
Speaking of surprises, it was a little nice to see the sexism factor in just a little – but not too much to where it derailed the story or made it all about the women's struggle. It was also nice to see something that was equally about the wives' struggles as well as their husbands. Equality doesn't mean one is above the other – it means there's a level playing field, in this case for telling the stories that need to be told as they need to be told.
Kudos to Ronald D Moore for bringing us a science fiction show that feels real and authentic. The fictional events and people in For All Mankind feel authentic to the time and setting – like they took a camera back in time to an alternate universe where the first man on the moon was Soviet and just hit record and let things play out.