The genre of ‘Alternate History' has become increasingly popular over the past few years. The hit show ‘Man In The High Castle' (Amazon Prime) focuses on a world where Nazi Germany wins World War Two. Netflix also boasts its own critically acclaimed dystopian thriller ‘1983' which explores a scenario where the Iron Curtain did not fall.
How does ‘For All Mankind' stand up against a classic such as ‘The Man In The High Castle'? Well, firstly let me say that you cannot fault the shows production values. It looks out of this world! From the actors clothing and hairstyles right down to those critical details such as children's toys. The soundtrack is a homage to the 60s best tunes. All in all, this builds a believable, immersive reality.
The importance of getting the period feel right can't be underestimated. It's only when we see the familiar turned upside can the shows premise work. Such as in the opening scene where a Soviet cosmonaut plants the red Hammer and Sickle flag on the moon. We then see President Nixon's reaction to the moon landing in grainy black and white newsreel footage. It's a smart way to pull the audience in without excessive exposition.
The hook with all ‘Alternate History' movies, series and books is that ‘what if' scenario. It should drive the story in unusual or unexpected directions. However, my chief criticism about ‘For All Mankind' is the lack of a sweeping narrative change. It seems that once the Russians land on the moon, nothing really changes! We get to see Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong lamenting the fact that is should be them receiving ticker-tape parades rather than the Russian Cosmonauts. President Nixon's response to the increasing Soviet dominance is to task NASA with building a moonbase and putting the first woman on the moon – “preferable a blond”.
The lack of significant story development does allow the series to explore the show's characters in detail. The cast is big and contains some excellent performances. Colm Feore (The Umbrella Academy) is fantastic as Wernher von Braun, and Joel Kinnaman (Edward Baldwin) is also worthy of note too. Generally, the whole cast is terrific.
If you're an alternate history buff, you'll appreciate this show. Fans of the hybrid drama/documentary series Mars on Netflix will enjoy ‘For All Mankind' too. However, I'm doubtful if the show will find a wider audience outside of the geek community. I hope I'm wrong because with a few minor tweaks I can see this show reaching the stars.