During the season three premiereon I wasn’t looking at my phone once. This never happens.
The episode, which placed several of the main characters at a wedding gone wrong aboard what was supposed to be the first space hotel, was a tense introduction to what is likely to 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 engines, 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 where he’s most likely to show up.
It was an episode that mixed futuristic sci-fi, intense relationship dynamics, and action thrillers into one breath-taking hour that literally ended on the exhale. It perfectly illustrates why For All Mankind is one of the strongest shows on television right now. But for some reason, few people pay attention to it.
For All Mankind originally launched with Apple TV Plus in 2019. FAM did not achieve hit status.
The premise of the show is very interesting: the Soviets were the first to reach the moon, and the Cold War actually never ended because both superpowers started an arms race into space. In a relatively short time, the moon becomes a busy place, with bases for the Americans and Russians. It turns out that the first step was not so much for humanity as for the military-industrial complex.
At a time when billionaires are jumping on rockets and Elon Musk talks about drinking on Mars, there seems to be a huge appetite for space travel as a concept. You might think that a show like FAM, which offers a fascinating view of an alternate universe where humanity bravely marches towards the stars, would be a no-brainer.
But space shows have struggled — at least those that adhere too tightly to real-world dynamics. Take Hulu’s The First , which spent its one season exploring the bureaucracy that ensued after a rocket exploded on Mars shortly after launch. Nat Geo’s Mars was an exciting deep dive into the challenges humans will face when they colonize the red planet. It was canceled after two seasons.
The first season of FAM felt like maybe it could go in the same direction. iafter his release. One of my main complaints was that it took half of its 10-hour running time to really depart from our familiar timeline. There were certainly differences – John Lennon was never killed, women – and especially a black female astronaut named Danielle Poole (Chris Marshall) – got to space much faster on the US side. But overall, the show tried to balance period drama, workplace drama, and science fiction, and it didn’t always do it skillfully.
Like Space Hotel, FAM finally started to hit the right speed in its second season, which combined sci-fi, politics, and relationship drama — and brought those elements together in an unwatchable season finale where America and Russia ruled the roost. another on the brink of nuclear war in space.
For All Mankind achieves this union because it keeps track of its unsolved cases. Introducing a small detail can play a big role later, leaving the audience wanting more.
And the payoffs are consistently satisfying, making clever use of time jumps to fast-forward 10 years or so each season. Relationships, including old grudges, have time to catch up, heal and rebuild in a way that feels natural and believable.
These time jumps also suggest that the show has learned to jump to action. The third season is set in the 1990s and shows the revival of the space race between the United States, the Soviets and the private company Helios. FAM spends enough time on the conflict you might expect when choosing a commander and crew for a mission. Fortunately, it fast forwards two years and sends everyone to Mars in the third episode.
In some ways, it’s hard to explain why For All Mankind gels as effectively as it does. At a time when prestige is almost a requirement for any new drama, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of shows that at least to look how good they are. For All Mankind doesn’t have to be perfect, but it evokes a general sense of authenticity. Everything that unfolds seems completely believable, you feel that the characters are really living their lives in this universe from the 60s.
As the third season heads to Mars, For All Mankind is still worth the trip.