Prestigious dramas have largely followed two parallel paths over the past 20 years. On a trail are shows that are based on realism but are a little soaring thanks to their theme which focuses on the personal and intense professional lives of doctors, lawyers and political activists. The other title has drawn viewers with a big budget spectacle and brought science fiction, fantasy and horror into the mainstream with stories fueled by bloody action and dramatic twists and turns.
These archetypes overlap in For all of humanity, which started its second season on February 19 with 10 episodes on Apple TV Plus. While the show, with its ancient history science fiction premise – a world where the space race between the US and the Soviet Union never ended – might attract the audience – its tone and themes make it closer The western wing when The man in the high castle.
Season 1 of For all of humanity The story began in 1969 when the Soviet Union hit Americans to the moon. Then it jumped three years into a future in which both superpowers had built lunar bases and mining operations. In Season 2, the show skips nearly a decade, ending up in a 1983 version where Ronald Reagan is president and Cold War tensions threaten to turn into armed conflict in space.
Like the time leaps that are used on Netflix The crown, the shift leaves showrunner Ronald D. Moore (Outlander and Battlestar Galactica) Place the characters in new historical contexts and show how their lives and relationships have evolved over time. Ancient history primarily gives writers the freedom to use real people and events at their discretion, while also having the potential to invent anything they want in terms of accelerated technological innovation or sociopolitical trends. It’s worth watching the opening montage of the season two premiere multiple times for a glimpse of everything that’s different in the world of the show.
But answering what-if questions about the failure of the Camp David accord or the survival of John Lennon isn’t really the point of the show. Instead, For all of humanity is an investigation into extraordinary people and how and why they seek fame. They may be astronauts and NASA engineers, but the story beats would be just as at home in a drama about politicians or movie stars.
On the surface, For all of humanityNetflix’s closest relative appears to be Netflix’s short-lived science fiction drama path. But while this Hilary Swank vehicle also focused on the reasons each crew member on the first manned mission to Mars went into space and the toll it took on them and their loved ones, path was driven by episodic crises that are more reminiscent of classic genre shows.
While For all of humanity With daring space rescues in both seasons, the action is always decidedly secondary to the impact those events have on the characters and the overall space program. At the astronaut Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman of Altered carbon) is ejected from a fighter jet before crashing in Season 2. The audience has no real doubt that he will survive. The real tension comes from the impact the accident had on his wife Karen (Shantel VanSanten von The young), who sits on the phone chain smoking and scared while her daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu from American vandal) watches helplessly.
Pretty much all performances in For all of humanity are top notch and the actors have a chemistry that gives credence to the intimacy between their characters who have lived and worked together in extraordinary circumstances for more than a decade. The show didn’t really care about aging makeup beyond contemporary hairstyles and giving Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) a beer belly, who has been grounded since a panic attack on the moon in season 1. But the passage of time is still burdening each character powerfully.
One thing that For all of humanity informs path is that the characters are neither idealized nor demonized. Ed is probably what the show is closest to being a true hero, but he has deep flaws and blind spots whether ignoring Gordo’s concerns about returning to the moon or attacking Kelly for following in his footsteps and joining the Navy wants because he is afraid to see her in danger. Gordo is a sad sack with a drinking problem, but he is a loving father. The scenes where his teenage sons try to understand their father and help him deal with his fear are made even more moving thanks to a camera style similar to the one used Friday night lights, Here the action is filmed from a distance where the viewer feels like an intruder in an intimate moment.
The big personal dramas are brightened up by a real-life comedy that helps ground the often larger-than-life characters, like Ed complaining about Karen swapping his Kraft Parmesan cheese for real stuff, or Ed and his fellow astronaut Molly Cobb Sonya Walger from Lost) seriously discuss Molly’s last mission while her spouses sneak a joint into the golf cart. The strong basic character development in Season 1 pays off heavily in Season 2. Each member of the ensemble receives arcs that increase their strengths and weaknesses.
For all of humanity also follows the prestige drama formula of tackling major societal problems through its diverse cast. Astronaut Ellen Wilson (Jodi Balfour) is in a fake marriage after her disastrous attempt to get to her captain in Season 1, but wonders if changing times could allow her to finally reveal her true self. Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall of Super girl) was the first black woman on the moon, but she confronts NASA with her tokenism by demanding she command her own mission. The actions could easily come out as preaching or sugar-sweet, but they feel real when the characters try to get an organization based on imagining the future of humanity to investigate the prejudices it remains tied to.
While the science fiction aspects of For all of humanity often play second fiddle to the character dramas, they are still well executed. The show looks beautiful, with its spectacular lunar landscapes and imaginary lunar base. There, a number of hot astronauts are feeling a sense of isolation and claustrophobia that has become all too familiar after a year of COVID-19 lockdown. “You get used to it,” is the mantra that comforts new astronauts when faced with terrible food, noisy equipment, and ants. This is a pretty amusing recall to the botched ant farming experiment from season one.
But while these may be solar flares killing spy satellites, and conflicts over lithium deposits in the moon, the threats on the show stem from Cold War politics rather than aliens or asteroids. The threat of nuclear war is always there, but that makes the show historical drama. Rather than attempting to cliffhangers and plot changes at viewers, Moore and his writers focus on the emotional as well as the geopolitical. It’s strange for a show that spends so much time in space to feel so grounded, but like their astronaut stars. For all of humanity could prove to be a trailblazer for a new frontier for prestige drama.
For all of humanity Season 2 is now running on Apple TV Plus. New episodes are released on Fridays.