While watching the season three premiere ofOn , I have not touched my cell phone once. Believe me that never happens.
The hour-long episode, which featured several main characters at a wedding gone wrong aboard what should have been the first space hotel, was a thrilling introduction to what is likely to be a tense season.
The hotel was built on the idea that centrifugal force creates gravity, and when a piece of debris hits one of the thrusters, increasing rotation (and gravity), 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 probably show up.
It was an episode that blended futuristic science fiction, fraught relationship dynamics, and the excitement of an action movie into a breathless hour that literally ended with an exhale. It perfectly sums up 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 didn’t exactly reach hit status.
The premise of the show is very interesting: The Soviets were the first to reach the moon, and the Cold War never ended as both superpowers took their arms race to space. Within a relatively short time, the moon becomes a bustling place, home bases for the Americans and Russians. It turns out that first step 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 about pizza places 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 bravely steps into the stars, would be a no-brainer.
But space shows have had a hard time — at least those that cling too rigidly to the dynamics of the real world. Take Hulu’s The First, which spent a season exploring the bureaucracy created after a rocket to Mars exploded shortly after launch. Nat Geo’s Mars was a fascinating deep dive into the problems humans will face if they colonize the red planet. It was canceled after two seasons.
The first season of FAM felt like it might go in the same direction. I reviewed it for CNET after release. One of my main complaints was that it took half the 10-hour run time to really deviate from our familiar timeline. Of course there were differences – John Lennon was never killed, women – and in particular a black female astronaut named Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall) – got into space much faster on the American side. Overall, though, the show tried to strike a balance between period drama, workplace drama, and science fiction, and didn’t always do so deftly.
Like the space hotel, FAM finally picked up speed in its second season, blending science fiction, politics, and relationship drama—weaving those elements into a season finale that’s hard to look at, in which America and Russia drifted each other on the road. edge of nuclear war in space.
For All Mankind achieves that amalgamation because it keeps up with the loose ends. The introduction of a small detail could play an important role later, leaving the audience craving more.
And the payouts are consistently satisfying, making clever use of time jumps, shooting ahead about 10 years each season. Relationships, including old pains, have time to fester, heal, and reopen in a way that feels natural and believable.
Those time jumps also indicate that the show has learned to spring into action. The third season is set in the 1990s and shows a revived space race between the US, the Soviets and Helios. FAM spends just enough time on the conflict you’d expect, choosing a commander and crew for the mission. Fortunately, it speeds forward two years and launches everyone tied to Mars in the third installment.
In a way it’s hard to explain why For All Mankind gels so effective. At a time when prestige is almost a requirement for any new drama, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of shows that are at least look like they are good. For All Mankind may not be perfect per se, but it evokes an overall sense of authenticity. Everything that unfolds feels completely plausible, you get the sense that the characters have really been living their lives in that universe since the ’60s.
As season three heads toward Mars, For All Mankind continues to be worth the journey.