By: Bill Cushing – Oct. 2020
What would the United States space program have been like if Russia landed on the moon before us? What would have been different? How would it have changed the history of space travel for our country? This is the premise of AppleTV+’s ambitious original series ‘For All Mankind,’ which also poses the questions of what’s to be gained and lost by venturing into space.
Created by Ben Nedivi, Matt Wolpert, and “Battlestar Galactica” executive producer Ronald D. Moore, the series opens with NASA and the world staring on in disbelief as a Soviet mission beats the United States to the moon.
Initially, the focus of the show is on Edward Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman), a fictional astronaut whose career is forever impacted by the Russians’ progress. Ed was moments from landing on the moon before, circling so close he could see the surface, but his superiors pulled him away, not ready yet to make such a big step. He has always regretted not making that move and in a vulnerable moment while he had been drinking, he tells a reporter his opinions of NASA and their cowardice for not making that decision. He is demoted as a result.
However, it is the second what-if twist that packs the bigger punch. While the US scrambles to get its act together, the Soviets land on the moon for a second time. On 1960s TV sets we see a cosmonaut standing on the lunar surface. Then the cosmonaut gets closer to the camera and lifts the visor on the helmet, and we see that it is a woman.
The US responds by speeding up its program and trying to get an American woman to the moon as soon as possible and Ed is given a reprieve. He is tasked with training the female candidates. The female astronaut trainees are all well written and acted, most noticeable is Molly Cobb (played by Sonya Walger). Cobb was part of the Mercury 13 program and has proved she has what it takes. She’s already been disappointed once, so she is deeply cynical about the new training program. She also has no tolerance in being patronized by the male astronauts.
There are some beautifully played moments as Ed and the men learn how to get along with Cobb, while she in turn learns what it means to be a team player and a role model.
Also among the female candidates is Tracey Stevens (Sarah Jones), who is overwhelmed not just by the infidelities of her husband Gordo (Michael Dorman), himself a celebrated astronaut and best friend of Ed, but with the possibility of her own glory on the horizon.
Without giving too much away from the rest of the series 10 episodes, the show has a lot going for it. Some great characters and great work by the actors. Kinnaman delivers a terrific performance as Ed Baldwin, as does Shantel VanSanten as Ed’s wife Karen. VanSanten, does a great job as Karen, dealing with the pressures of being an astronaut’s wife while struggling to raise their son. All of the actresses playing the candidates are excellent, most notably Sonya Walger as Molly. Wrenn Schmidt excels as pioneering Margo Madison, a mission control engineer striving to make a name for herself in a position that had previously always been filled by a man.
‘For All Mankind’ is an undeniably compelling watch, with great looking sets and moonscapes, gripping scenes and uplifting moments. The show has been renewed for a second season and will appear sometime in late 2020 or early 2021.
The first season of ‘For All Mankind’ consists of 10 episodes and is available to stream on AppleTV+.
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