The biggest sleeper success story of the past few years has been For All Mankind. While a small handful of critics (such as yours truly) have been waving the (atmosphere-free) flag for For All Mankind since the first season, the return of the show last year caught a lot more attention. It's still a bit under-the-radar, but very quickly more and more people are coming around on it.
If you're yet to discover this gem of a show, the premise of it is that in the late 1960s, Russia were able to beat the US to landing a man on the moon by just a few weeks. That event created a major divergence in what we know to be our history. The cold war became focused on space travel, with both the US and Russia pumping more cash and resources into space than they did in real life. It means technology advanced in alternative ways and events in our culture played out differently. The Beatles had a reunion, the 90s saw a woman beat out Clinton to become President, and man has not only colonised the moon, but as of this season, we're en route to landing people on Mars.
The main characters in the show are the men and women who drive the most change through NASA - they're astronauts, Mission Control scientists, bureaucrats, and friends and family. Each season in the show jumps forward to the next decade as we discover what is happening with our cast of characters.
For All Mankind is essentially a high stakes soap opera that lets us look to the skies and around the world we stand in today and ask "what if?".
With the third season of the show, the series has reached a really interesting stage: The stakes in the show have never been greater as we watch three teams of scientists each battle it out to become the first to land a person on Mars - we follow the Americans at NASA, Russians, and a third largely US-based corporate effort. But at the same time, the show itself has never felt smaller. A creative decision has been made to rigidly follow the same characters we have largely been following since the first season, but that starts to make less and less sense as decades go on. Why has the success in mankinds space endeavours all been achieved by just these same 5-10 people?
For All Mankind would be a stronger show if it were more willing to sunset characters along with the introduction of new ones as each season/decade passes. The promise of the show isn't based on being able to follow what is seemingly a space dynasty as much as it is about watching an exploration of who we all are and what we believe in if circumstances were different.
That said, this third season of For All Mankind is still mostly very gripping. There are two story arcs in the first eight episodes of the season (the final two were not provided for review, which makes one suspect that something significant happens at the tail end of the season) that are thoroughly gripping and each build to high-pressure nail-biting thrills that are as great as any space action sequence you've seen on the screen before.
In this third year of the show, it remains essential television. If you haven't yet blasted off with this show, you're really missing out.
For All Mankind returns to Apple TV+ for season 3 on June 10 with new episodes available once a week. The first two seasons are streaming now.