The reviews came in over the last week (and many of them weren’t kind), but Apple TV+ finally arrived for the rest of us yesterday. I got home from work late, so I was only able to check out one show after signing up for my free trial.
Out of the opening lineup of shows, For All Mankind is really the only one that stands out as something I would be interested in, so I decided to start there. I will take a look at the others later, but I actually wanted to see watch this show and I wasn’t disappointed. If you are worried about spoilers below, don’t be. I’ll keep it general.
So for a little background, I’m a fan of historical dramas, especially ones that relate to either science and sci-fi. I also like alternative history shows, as well. For example, I absolutely loved the job Ron Howard did with Apollo 13, telling a story we all knew the ending of, but still managing to make it compelling and dramatic. It’s definitely one of my favorite movies relating to space, but it’s mainly because of there are so many interesting real characters that are developed so well in a short period of time.
Another example from the alternative history category would be Amazon Prime’s The Man in the High Castle. It’s had some ups and downs over three seasons, but overall I’ve really enjoyed the interesting scenarios that come about when you start playing with the historical timeline and just how different things could be in some ways, yet the same in others, with a few changes to history.
So, while I try not to place too many expectations on a new show right out of the gate, I am judging For All Mankind against some pretty tough competition. Despite that, I thought the first three episodes were really good and left me ready to watch more over the coming weeks. I won’t be giving anything way in telling you that the basis of the story is that, in this alternate history, the Soviet Union beat the United States to the moon, which obviously changes the dynamics of the space race in a huge way.
From there, I thought the story was handled very well. It unfolded pretty organically and the director and production team did a nice job creating interesting historical tie-ins that are accurate to the time period, but are shifted to the alternate reality. I won’t give any away, but I will say that if you watched Hidden Figures (another spectacular movie about an important part of the space race), watch for an interesting historical parallel. There are several interesting little things like that throughout the first three episodes for those like myself who appreciate such things.
I also love the historical accuracy of the sets and surroundings. This was something I also appreciated about Apollo 13, as Ron Howard and his team did a phenomenal job of recreating a believable look and feel for what NASA Mission Control would have looked like in 1970. For All Mankind was smart to pay attention to the same nuances and details in building this shows sets and scenes. It makes the story more immersive and believable.
Beyond this, I think the acting is at least good overall, with many above average and some great moments sprinkled in. I’ve been a fan of Joel Kinnaman for a few years through his roles in The Killing, House of Cards and Hanna, and I think he stands out in For All Mankind. It’s a tough ask for Eric Ladin to measure up to Ed Harris’ Gene Kranz, but he has a couple of moments where he rises to it. There are a few other solid performances sprinkled in, as well and some decent chemistry that should continue to develop over the coming episodes.
For All Mankind isn’t perfect. There are a couple if stretches where things drag just a bit. It isn’t as gripping as Apollo 13, but it really isn’t meant to be. That is a singular story that was, in reality, incredibly dramatic throughout. For All Mankind is designed to be a much longer story arc, so there will be times when things ebb and flow. However, there are definitely a few dramatic moments when this show does grab you.
I am very interested to see where For All Mankind goes over the rest of this season and beyond. A good start doesn’t guarantee success, but so far this show looks like the best of the initial Apple TV+ bunch. I understand that it won’t appeal to everyone, but if you are the least bit interested in this kind of a story, I definitely recommend checking it out.