First we were like why is Apple making a Walkman then we were like why is Apple making a phone then we were like why is Apple making a watch now we’re like why is Apple making a television show. After watching the first two episodes of “For All Mankind” I’m still not sure about that last one.
Several things can make a television show boring. Uninteresting characters, flat storylines, weak dialogue. No single one of those makes Mankind boring, but they all play some part. Instead the show comes up short because it’s alt-history with no stakes.
For All Mankind takes place in a universe where the Soviets put the first man on the moon. That’s…it. First man, surface of moon. Congrats. The story begins shortly before and takes place mostly after this…after America lost the race to the moon. By like a month. Oh yeah, we got there. Buzz and Neil put Eagle down on the Sea of Tranquility and all that but the soundbite.
Who thought that was alt enough to make alt-history out of??? For All Mankind gives us no “So what?” to make us care why history didn’t unfold the way we know it did. The only consequence so far to losing the space race has been the ouster of the head of the space program. Whoopee. Am I supposed to be enthralled by Richard Nixon’s quest for a fall guy?
I’m not. Not even a little bit.
Compare this to The Man in the High Castle. That show has stakes: The end of our country. Japan and Nazi Germany control what used to be the United States of America. That’s alt-history. What happened matters intensely to the characters and in fact the entire world around them. What happened in For All Mankind barely even matters to the people it happened to because the Apollo space program continues undeterred. Wait, sorry, one mopey astronaut had to do desk duty for a while before they let him fly on Apollo 15. My deepest apologies.
No, this show is a dud.
How this could have been compelling? Here are some ways For All Mankind could have higher stakes:
- Losing the race to the moon causes scientific investment to flee the U.S. and flow into Soviet Russia, which props up communism in ways no one thought possible. The motherland soars on the international stage.
- Developing countries follow the Soviet Union’s lead, emulating the communist dream that took man to the heavens.
- America’s standing in the world wanes and its morale at home tanks as its people no longer believe it can achieve great things.
- Our collective belief in capitalism suffers, here and around the world.
Slowly but surely all those things could begin to shape a way for viewers to envision a very different modern world. Then we would have something to care about. When I watch High Castle I feel something. When I watch For All Mankind, I don’t.