Created by Ronald Moore–who gave us the amazing BATTLESTAR GALACTICA reboot recast as an allegory for the War on Terror–FOR ALL MANKIND (Apple TV) imagines what would have happened if the space race never ended. Starting in the late 1960s–the age of Saturn, Mercury, and Apollo spacecraft–FOR ALL MANKIND begins with a Soviet cosmonaut beating the Americans to the Moon, which galvanizes America into an ongoing commitment to not only match the Soviets but beat them in space colonization. The result is a story about innovation, the raw wonder and danger of space exploration, the egos and brilliance of the people who fuel it and risk everything to explore, and how space exploration sadly would have deepened rather than resolved Cold War rivalry.
It’s top-notch sci-fi, with me in heaven watching NASA struggle to build a lunar colony with early 1970s technology and seeing Apollo spacecraft land on the Moon to Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” It’s also first-rate drama, focusing on the astronauts and engineers struggling to launch humanity into space, who behave as great but flawed real people. Political leaders such as Nixon and Teddy Kennedy are perfectly woven into the story, along with historical figures such as Von Braun (who built V-2 rockets for the Nazis before being brought to America), Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin. Similarly, social and political issues of the day such as gays, the Equal Rights Amendment, women’s liberation, and so on are expertly integrated into the story. This isn’t just a story about space, it’s about change.
Speaking of women, one of the things I love about this series is how the astronauts’ wives are handled. Women are often added to movies like APOLLO 13 to appeal to women viewers, but they’re always portrayed as saccharine caricatures placed there to worry about their men with grace and then rejoice at their triumph. FOR ALL MANKIND makes these women as interesting as their husband astronauts, contributing to a story made up of multiple plot lines, all of them consistently satisfying. The early introduction of female and African-American astronauts is also perfectly integrated, giving us their stories as real, compelling drama without preaching.
Season 2 awaits, and I understand a Season 3 was signed in December 2020. For sure, I’ll be watching.