Streaming on: Apple TV+. Season 2 premieres February 19
Length: 10 x episodes (48-76 minutes each)
Of all the many gems on Apple TV+ – Servant, Morning Wars and Ted Lasso – perhaps the greatest undiscovered treasure is For All Mankind.
Starting in 2019, For All Mankind is a smart bit of alternate history drama that asks the intriguing question, “what if the space race never ended?”
In case you didn’t know, the space race was the increasingly frenzied competition between America and the USSR to dominate all the emptiness that lobs around the outside of this little blue and green marble, Earth. Lasting from
1955 to around 1975, the space race got quite heated, with the eventual winner being America, obvs.
However, this categorical victory kind of killed the race and slowed it down to a crawl. After all, what kind of space-related gear do we have these days? Occasional landings on asteroids and Elon Musk fanging sports cars into orbit?
Stop hurling perfectly good vehicles into the inky expanse of space, ELON! Weren't you meant to be taking us to Mars?
Things are a little different in this alt-history masterpiece, however. See, in the world of For All Mankind, the US was not the first country to get a man on the moon. That honour belonged to the Soviet Union. This, naturally enough, does not please our American friends, and NASA pushes into overdrive, attempting to match and then outdo the Russians.
The result is a political game of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ between the two superpowers, and before long both countries have manned moon bases and plans to head to Mars.
If all of that sounds dry and a bit academic, understand the above is just the backdrop for the show. The real meat of the yarn, the delicious chunky stew you’ll be feasting on every episode, is all about the characters.
And what characters they are, flawed and imperfect and lovable and sometimes tragic. And in season two, they just keep getting better.
There’s been a significant time jump since season one, roughly ten years (give or take) and we’ve moved from the alternate reality 1970s to the alternate reality 1980s. Much has changed. Both the US and the Soviet Union have elaborate moon bases and tensions run high.
Former wild man astronaut, Edward Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) hasn’t been to space since the 70s, and now pilots a desk at NASA so he can focus on family. Fellow moon lover and incorrigible pants man Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) has become a bit of a tragic figure – an overweight alcoholic coasting on previous glories.
Then there’s Gordo’s ex-wife, Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones) who has become an international celebrity and darling of the late-night shows. Tracy’s career as an astronaut has moved into high gear but she’s showing signs of fatigue and isolation, which can be dangerous on Earth but deadly in space...
One of the best storylines belongs to Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) a lesbian astronaut who has hidden her sexual identity by marrying Larry Wilson (Nate Corddry), who is also gay. At first, it seems like a great arrangement, but what happens when one of them falls in love?
And more dramatically, what happens when the Americans decide to bring guns to the moon?
The potent mix of the political and personal executes a slow burn arc that culminates in a movie-length finale that is absolutely stunning, devastating and beautiful.
For All Mankind’s brilliant second season begins on Apple TV+ on February 19, which means you have just about enough time to catch up with its stellar first season and drink in this superbly realised mixture of The Right Stuff and Mad Men.
Do not sleep on this one and be prepared to have your emotions launched into orbit.
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