Still in living memory is the supposed ultimate achievement of humanity. We looked at the moon for thousands of years but on July 20th 1969 we touched down on that glowing white orb in the sky and people from this blue and green one strode (well, bounced) across it.
The mission from launch to safe return of the astronauts via splashdown in the Pacific Ocean to terra firma totalled barely over a week.
Should modern space travel get beyond flinging cars into space and reach instead for Mars, how would such a journey impact a crew impossibly far from friends and loved ones?
Away, starring Hilary Swank (I Am Mother) ponders that very question.
What Is Away About?
Emma Green (Swank) commands a small crew on the first manned three year mission to Mars.
Conceived as a multi-national expedition, the Mars Joint Initiative international crew members consist of: Commander Green (American); Second in Command and pilot, Ram Arya (Indian); botanist and first-time astronaut, Kwesi (British); chemist Lu Wang (Chinese), selected as the first human to set foot on Mars; and engineer Misha (Russian), the most experienced astronaut there is.
This blend of personalities makes for around 50% of the show or, as it would be more crass to say, the ‘good’ part.
Throughout Away’s 10-episode run, the Atlas crew hit obstacle after obstacle. Some are technical (a vital solar panel not unfurling therefore risking their power supply, and a supply rocket disappearing from contact to name a few) whilst others are personal.
Bullish and frank Misha (Mark Ivanir) throws his experience around yet hides a potentially disastrous failing, and Lu’s (Vivian Wu) cold exterior covers up the emotional turmoil inside.
Getting to know the crew is a lot of the fun of Away and their clashes with authority whilst dealing with a series of increasingly life-threatening crises make for good dramatic television.
Less can be said for the Earth-based plot lines. Away bills itself as more concerned with the emotional trauma of long-distance space travel and on those left behind.
Most prominently featured is Emma’s husband Matt (also a NASA engineer with leading expertise in the Atlas) and their teenage daughter Alexis (“Lex”) who, in the absence of Emma, has to deal with a sudden medical issue rendering her father wheelchair bound.
Away Official Trailer
Is Away On Netflix Worth Watching?
In a different show, these issues could indeed make for compelling television as a combination of guilt, fear, and defiance bubbles up inside Lex (played with great vulnerability by Talitha Bateman). But when there is a trip to Mars as your alternative plotline it is hard to see the family’s domestic issues as anything other than a pace killer.
Which would imply that Away has much pace. Even the space sections are languid to the point of trying one’s patience. The dullness of space travel is certainly a more realistic depiction, but such a large volume of the show is spent with our crew video calling home or, as they stretch further away, sending emails, voice memos and text messages.
Seriously, how good is the internet some 63 million kilometres from Earth?! Swank’s performance consists largely of reading or sending emails and crying about being far away from her family.
Her emotional state makes for good conflict on board the Atlas as her commitment is questioned but I found it hard to sympathetically connect, instead finding her lack of mental fortitude rather annoying.
Much is made of a lack of trust or respect for Emma after her instinctive actions in the early days of the mission inadvertently cause a dreaded fireball to float at zero G around the ship: something apparently based on a real event.
The fallout undermines Emma's command and this gets rather tiresome in the early stages as bitchiness and snide comments rule the day for the first half of the show.
Away seems to have trouble deciding whether to really commit to the psychological elements of space travel or revel in the tried and tested high tension of life-threatening faults.
When you put the two side by side then interpersonal bickering is inevitably a let-down in comparison.
If you can get past the lethargic first episode and stick with it until the back end of the series then Away has some rewards for you.
The tension goes up a notch for our space travellers as they band together in adversity. Similar to Another Life, whilst the dynamic between wheelchair-bound Matt (Josh Charles) trying to play both parents to a spinning-out Lex makes for heartwarming stuff.
The fact he’s also the guy trying to design fixes for the Atlas is a poor use of the character as it leaves the father/daughter relationship competing with a more exciting ‘here’s a blueprint to save the day’ angle.
Nonetheless, as that red planet looms large you will be egging on the cast of Away. Misha’s sardonic nature easily gives him the best one-liners and Ato Essandoh’s earnest temperament as Kwesi is eminently huggable.
What you need to do is mentally ditch the melodrama. Ditch the tacked-on plotlines where both Matt and Emma are faced with people falling in love with them (seriously, ditch that and ditch it hard).
Then ditch the rather wet boyfriend plotline for Lex (even if his pic of Mars suggests he has the best zoom found on any smartphone ever). What is left after all the ditching is a 50% compelling show, which truth be told is probably a higher ratio than real life most of the time…
Words by Mike Record
Away Season 2 – Renewed Or Cancelled?
Unfortunately Away was cancelled after the first season so despite having a huge number of fans, there will be no second season.
The specific reasons for the cancellation were not officially detailed by Netflix, as the streaming giant tends to keep its viewership metrics and decision-making processes private.
However, producing high-quality drama series, especially ones that require special effects and extensive sets, can be expensive.
If the viewership numbers didn't justify the production costs, Netflix might have deemed it financially unviable to continue with another season.
Plus, while the series had its supporters, the critical reception was mixed. Some critics praised the emotional depth and character development, while others felt that the space drama elements were sometimes overshadowed by melodramatic storylines.
So if you fancy watching Away, remember that it has just one season.
Cast Of Away Netflix
Hilary Swank (Alaska Daily) as Emma Green, a NASA astronaut who is commander of the mission and ship Atlas.
Josh Charles as Matt Logan, Emma's husband and a NASA engineer who supports Emma's mission at the mission control centre in Houston.
Vivian Wu as Lu Wang, a Chinese astronaut who is a chemist and who had an affair with CAPCOM Mei Chen.
Mark Ivanir as Misha Popov, a Russian cosmonaut and the Atlas engineer.
Ato Essandoh (Reptile) as Kwesi Weisberg-Abban, a Jewish British-Ghanaian botanist and rookie astronaut.
Ray Panthaki as Group Captain Ram Arya, the mission's Indian second-in-command pilot and a medical officer.
Talitha Bateman as Lex Logan, Emma and Matt's teenage daughter.
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