Status dramas have largely adopted two parallel paths in the course of the previous 20 years. On one observe are exhibits grounded in realism however given a little bit of lofty escapism due to their material, which give attention to the non-public and intense skilled lives of medical doctors, legal professionals, and political operatives. The opposite observe has attracted viewers with big-budget spectacle, pushing science fiction, fantasy, and horror into the mainstream with tales pushed by bloody motion and dramatic twists.
These archetypes are intersecting in For All Mankind, which kicked off its 10-episode second season on Apple TV Plus on February 19. Whereas the present might lure in audiences with its alt-history science fiction premise — a world wherein the area race between america and Soviet Union by no means ended — its tone and themes make it nearer to The West Wing than The Man within the Excessive Citadel.
Season 1 of For All Mankind kicked off its story in 1969, with the Soviet Union beating the People to the Moon. Then it jumped three years right into a future the place each superpowers had established lunar bases and mining operations. In season 2, the present skips practically a decade and lands in a model of 1983 the place Ronald Reagan is president, and Chilly Struggle tensions threaten to show into armed battle in area.
Just like the time jumps utilized in Netflix’s The Crown, the shift lets showrunner Ronald D. Moore (Outlander and Battlestar Galactica) place the characters in new historic contexts whereas displaying how their lives and relationships have advanced over time. The alt-history primarily offers the writers the liberty to make use of actual individuals and incidents as they see match, whereas additionally having the potential to make up no matter they need when it comes to accelerated technological innovation or sociopolitical traits. It’s price watching the opening montage of season 2’s premiere a number of occasions only for a blast by every thing that’s completely different within the present’s world.
However answering what-if questions in regards to the Camp David Accords failing or John Lennon surviving isn’t actually the purpose of the present. As a substitute, For All Mankind is an examination of outstanding individuals and the way and why they pursue glory. They might be astronauts and NASA engineers, however the story beats could be simply as at dwelling in a drama about politicians or film stars.
On the floor, For All Mankind’s closest relative would possibly appear to be Netflix’s short-lived science fiction drama Away. However whereas that Hilary Swank car additionally centered on the explanations every member of the crew of the primary manned mission to Mars went to area, and the toll it took on them and their family members, Away was pushed by episodic crises extra harking back to traditional style exhibits.
Whereas For All Mankind options daring area rescues in each seasons, the motion is at all times decidedly secondary to the impression these occasions have on the characters and the area program at giant. When astronaut Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman of Altered Carbon) ejects from a fighter jet earlier than it crashes in season 2, there’s no actual doubt within the viewers’s thoughts that he’ll survive. The true rigidity comes from seeing the impact the accident has on his spouse, Karen (Shantel VanSanten of The Boys), who sits by the telephone chain smoking and terrified whereas their daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu of American Vandal) seems to be on helplessly.
Just about the entire performances in For All Mankind are top-notch, and the actors have a chemistry that gives credibility to the intimacy cast between their characters, who’ve lived and labored collectively underneath extraordinary circumstances for greater than a decade. The present hasn’t actually bothered with growing old make-up past period-appropriate hairstyles and giving a beer stomach to Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman), who has been grounded since having a panic assault on the moon in season 1. However the passage of time nonetheless powerfully weighs on each character.
One factor that For All Mankind does share with Away is that the characters are neither idealized or demonized. Ed might be the closest factor the present has to a real hero, however he’s obtained deep flaws and blind spots, whether or not he’s ignoring Gordo’s issues about returning to the Moon, or lashing out at Kelly for eager to observe in his footsteps and be a part of the Navy as a result of he’s afraid to see her at risk. Gordo’s a sad-sack with a consuming drawback, however he’s a loving father. The scenes the place his teenage sons attempt to perceive and assist their father cope with his anxiousness are made much more shifting due to a digicam fashion much like one used on Friday Night time Lights, the place the motion is filmed from a distance that makes the viewer really feel like an intruder in an intimate second.
The large private dramas are brightened by slice-of-life comedy that helps floor the often-larger-than-life characters, like Ed complaining about Karen swapping his Kraft parmesan cheese out for the true stuff, or Ed and fellow astronaut Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger of Misplaced) having a critical chat about Molly’s newest mission whereas their spouses are sneaking a joint within the golf cart. The sturdy foundational character growth completed in season 1 is paying off powerfully in season 2, with each member of the ensemble getting arcs that enlarge their strengths and failings.
For All Mankind additionally follows the prestige-drama formulation of tackling huge societal points by its various forged. Astronaut Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is in a sham marriage following her disastrous try to come back out to her commander in season 1, however she wonders if the altering occasions would possibly enable her to lastly present her true self. Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall of Supergirl) was the primary Black girl on the moon, however she confronts NASA on its tokenism by demanding to command her personal mission. The plots may simply come off as preachy or saccharine, however they really feel real, because the characters try to push a company based mostly on imagining the way forward for humanity to look at the preconceptions that it stays sure by.
Whereas the science fiction points of For All Mankind typically play second fiddle to the character dramas, they’re nonetheless nicely executed. The present seems to be beautiful, with its spectacular lunar landscapes and imagined moonbase. There, a collection of scorching astronauts really feel a way of isolation and claustrophobia that has develop into all too acquainted after a 12 months of COVID-19 lockdowns. “You get used to it,” is the mantra used to console new astronauts once they face the horrible meals, noisy tools, and ant infestation that’s a fairly amusing callback to season 1’s botched ant-farm experiment.
However whereas they could contain photo voltaic flares knocking out spy satellites and conflicts over lunar lithium deposits, the threats within the present are all grounded in Chilly Struggle politics quite than aliens or asteroids. The specter of nuclear warfare is at all times current, however that simply makes the present really feel like a interval drama. Fairly than push to maintain viewers watching with cliffhangers and plot twists, Moore and his writers place the give attention to the emotional stakes simply as a lot because the geopolitical ones. It’s unusual for a present that spends a lot time in area to really feel so grounded, however like its astronaut stars, For All Mankind may show to be a trailblazer of a brand new frontier for status drama.
For All Mankind season 2 is now streaming on Apple TV Plus. New episodes are launched on Fridays.