Why More People Should Watch TV’s Most Underrated Sci-Fi Show
In the Season 3 premiere of For all mankind on Apple TV PlusI didn’t look at my phone once. This Never arrived.
The episode, which placed several main characters in a wedding gone wrong aboard what was supposed to be the first space hotel, was a tense introduction to what will likely be a tense season.
The hotel is built on the idea that centrifugal force creates gravity, and when a piece of debris hits one of the thrusters, causing the spin (and gravity) to increase, the characters struggle to put one foot in front of the other. I half-expected the Doctor to show up in the TARDIS because a seemingly doomed spaceship in the middle of a party is exactly the kind of place he’d be likely to show up.
It was an episode that blended futuristic sci-fi, tense relationship dynamics, and action movie excitement into a heart-pounding hour that literally ended in an exhale. It perfectly represents why For All Mankind has become one of the strongest shows on television right now. But for some reason, few seem to pay attention.
For All Mankind originally launched with Apple TV Plus in 2019. FAM hasn’t exactly achieved hit status.
The premise of the show is very interesting: the Soviets got to the moon first, and the Cold War never ended because the two superpowers fought their arms race in space. In a relatively short time, the moon becomes a bustling place, housing bases for Americans and Russians. It turns out that the first stage was less for humanity and more for the military-industrial complex.
At a time when billionaires are jumping on rockets and Elon Musk is talking pizza on Mars, there seems to be a huge appetite for space travel as a concept. You’d think a show like FAM, which offers a tantalizing view of an alternate universe where humanity has bravely launched itself into the stars, would be a no-brainer.
But space shows have struggled — at least those that adhere too rigidly to real-world dynamics. Take Hulu’s The First, which spent a season exploring the bureaucracy that followed a rocket blast to Mars shortly after launch. Nat Geo’s Mars was a fascinating dive into the problems humans will face when they colonize the Red Planet. It was canceled after two seasons.
Perhaps the first season of FAM seemed to go in the same direction. I reviewed it for CNET as soon as it comes out. One of my main complaints was that it took half of its 10 hour runtime to really deviate from our familiar timeline. Of course, there were differences: John Lennon was never assassinated, women – and notably a black astronaut named Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) – arrived in space much faster on the American side. But overall, the show tried to balance period drama, workplace drama, and sci-fi, and didn’t always do it so deftly.
Much like the space hotel, FAM finally got into gear in its second season, which blended sci-fi, politics, and relationship drama — and weaved those elements into a can’t-miss season finale where the America and Russia have driven each other to the brink of a nuclear war in space.
For All Mankind achieves this merge because it keeps track of its details. The introduction of a small detail could play an important role later, which makes his audience want more.
And the payoffs are always satisfying, using time jumps cleverly, moving forward about 10 years each season. Relationships, including old wounds, have time to fester, heal, and re-open in a way that feels natural and believable.
These time jumps also signal that the series has learned to take action. The third season is set in the 90s and features a reinvigorated space race between the United States, the Soviets and the private company Helios. FAM spends just enough time on the conflict you might expect, choosing a commander and crew for the mission. Luckily, that speeds up two years and puts everyone on Mars in the third episode.
Somehow, it’s hard to explain why For All Mankind gels so effectively. In a time when prestige is almost a requirement for any new drama, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of shows that at least look how good they are. For All Mankind may not necessarily be perfect, but it elicits an overall sense of authenticity. Everything that unfolds seems entirely plausible, you get the feeling that the characters have really been living their lives in this universe since the 60s.
As season three heads to Mars, For All Mankind is still worth watching.
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