The First (Hulu TV, 2018)

  • Gist: In the months leading up to launch, the crew, support team, and managers of the first mission to land people on Mars deal with all kinds of stuff.
  • Theme: Cost. The economic, social, and personal costs of creating, attempting a great act, of being The First at anything that could change history.
  • Beau Willimon: Creator/showrunner of House of Cards (US version) can write good dramatic scenes, and here brings characters much more likable than the Underwoods.
  • Nerd stuff: Don’t expect 8 episodes of geek-speak. Half the show focuses on the political and personal maneuvering necessary to get funding and public support, while…
  • Family drama: The other Half focuses on family issues, some caused by but mostly incidental to a loved one leaving for a 2.5 year trip to Mars.
  • Acting: Solid. Shout out to Anna Jacoby-Heron, a youngster with no major credits yet, for carrying an outsize share of the load and providing an emotional fulcrum for the viewer.
  • Triggers?: I was home from school sick the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded in mid-air a minute after takeoff, instantly killing seven astronauts, including a social studies teacher who would have been the first civilian in space. Still a poignant memory for me, much more for everyone involved in space development, but this show honors the risk and sacrifice of pioneers.
  • Manipulation?: Could be accused of emotional string-pulling, but I think it’s selective focus to raise good questions and explore legitimate dilemmas.
  • Quarreling astronauts?: Not really, not the bitchy adolescents sometimes portrayed in fiction. Due to a rigorous selection and training process, plus how their lives literally depend on each other, real astronauts generally get on well. However, the eventual first trip to Mars will be different than the Apollo missions. It will likely be international, not American; be multiracial, not all white males; last over 2 years, not 3 days; be mainly scientific, not a quasi-military Cold War techno-stunt. For the same reasons the pressures on the crew will be much higher.

Conclusion: Fully recommended to fans of thoughtful, verbal, emotionally-layered drama. Eight episodes, available on Hulu.

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