Television Review: For All Mankind (Season One)

The premise behind For All Mankind intrigued me right away. What if the Russians had been the first to walk on the moon instead of the Americans? What sort of an impact might that have had on history? Ronald Moore (creator of Battlestar Galactica) poses that question in the first episode, and then proceeds to play out the what if from then on. The result is an intriguing season, bogged down occasionally with too much melodrama.

The show shines when it can have fun with the premise, showing both how some things might have changed and how some things would have stayed the same. In a fairly non-spoilery example, the Chappaquiddick scandal in Ted Kennedy’s life was avoided, since the Russians landed on the moon the same evening Mary Jo Kopechne died in our normal timeline. Kennedy left that party before the death occurred, and voila, he was then scandal-free, letting him win the presidency in 1972. (Of course, since Kopechne was still alive in this new timeline, he was then bogged down in a sex scandal later on, when the affair came to light.)

On the other hand, sometimes I felt like the series got hung up on the lives of its characters, to the detriment to the plot. I know that sounds like a pretty lame reason to critique a show (the characters are too important!), but when the main engine of the show is running on “what if,” taking the time to explore universal issues like the stress of the space program on the families involved feel like the show spinning its wheels. I can get that in any number of shows about the space race. Give me more of that sweet alternate history action, thank you kindly.

But thankfully, that bogged-down feeling is generally kept to a minimum, and the show moves forward quite quickly. (Yay for binge watching.) It’s rated TVMA for a bit of language here and there, but nothing that should cause too much of a hangup for most audiences. (A number of episodes are actually TV14. The show seems to want to appear more “mature” than it really is, as if audiences don’t want to watch a TV14 show. I do wish they’d just trim the content to be more squarely in the TV14 range, since that’s what the show feels like it wants to be.) Honestly, the biggest strike against it is probably that it’s on Apple TV+, which just isn’t that widely used as of yet.

Overall, I gave it a 7.5/10. There’s plenty to like, and I’m intrigued enough to move on to season two, but it isn’t complete bliss. Season two might well make or break the show. We’ll see. If the premise seems interesting, or you’re a sucker for space exploration or light science fiction or alternate histories, this is one I’d definitely keep an eye on.

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