12:15pm PT by Kirsten Chuba
Apple's 'For All Mankind': What the Critics Are Saying
Apple TV+ is going galaxy-wide with the space drama For All Mankind, part of the new streamer's first wave of original content.
The 10-episode alternative-history series stars Joel Kinnaman as astronaut Ed Baldwin, who flew an Apollo 10 mission that missed its opportunity to land on the moon, thereby allowing the Soviets to land first and win the space race. The show then follows the "Butterfly Effect" of that changed moment in history, with the U.S. facing embarrassment and resigned to viewing itself as the scrappy underdog, which leads to a reevaluation of things at NASA, notably with the role of women in the program.
For All Mankind has a Metascore of 65 on Metacritic and an 81 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Hollywood Reporter's Tim Goodman calls the series "fine but familiar," with a plot that is well worn and dragging at the same time, and that despite its focus on alternate history, "there's not much done with the concept (other than Ted Kennedy became president after Richard Nixon and some equally minor tweaks)."
While Goodman applauds the show's expensive look and impressive cast, he adds, "what takes a little longer to figure out — too long for some, no doubt — is that there's not a lot of fuel in the rocket tanks," and he questions whether viewers will stick around.
The AV Club's Danette Chavez commends Kinnaman's performance "as a man who doesn’t think there’s any such thing as paying too high a price to advance the space program," but is critical of Mankind's handling of race and lack of backstory for its people of color, as "it’s not enough to simply have Black and Latinx characters in a story with predominantly white characters."
She adds that creator Ronald D. Moore's detail-heavy series "is in danger of looking quaint compared to the rest of Apple TV+’s offerings at launch, not to mention the rest of the streaming and network landscape," and it may struggle to attract more viewers than just those who went to space camp.
CNN's Brian Lowry compares Mankind to the recent space films Hidden Figures and First Man in how it creates romance around the space program, but critiques how "the show unfolds at a slogging pace." "Give For All Mankind credit for a nicely calibrated takeoff, but five episodes in, it's following the kind of ragged flight plan that doesn't raise hopes that the show has the right stuff to stick the landing," he says.
Collider's Haleigh Foutch writes that the appeal of revisionist history "might be the show’s biggest disadvantage," as it "takes itself very seriously and moves very slowly despite the time jumps" while being "rarely surprising with the results." He adds, however, that Mankind has some standout moments and strong performances.
Foutch asserts that the series aimed to essentially do Mad Men at NASA, charting the rise of women in the workplace, and as a result, "we’ve seen this all done before." "Being familiar doesn’t make For All Mankind bad by any stretch, but for much of its run, you’re waiting for it to turn a corner into something as new and uncharted as the realms its characters hope to explore, only to find them touching down second place," she explains.
IndieWire's Steve Greene notes how "even walking a different path, For All Mankind still finds ways to take one step forward and a giant leap back," largely in its constant reminder of "what's at stake" in the characters' frequent space missions. Additionally, he says, "Every evocation of real-world parallels either feels like a condemnation of those people who didn’t do their homework or an obligatory nod to those who have." Frequent mentions of John Glenn, Chappaquiddick or "any other square on the ‘60s/‘70s Bingo card is delivered with the subtlety of a hammer blow or a self-satisfied slickness."
Slate's Willa Paskin simply calls the the show "stately and extremely boring," noting how it fails to make a statement with Apple's first wave of content.
Time's Judy Berman recommends Mankind for viewers who aren't "exhausted by ‘60s period pieces where brilliant, flawed men brood as brilliant, perfect women endure retro sexism, nor put off by frequent scenes of mission control guys frantically mashing buttons," but maintains that there's not much to see otherwise.
Paste's Jacob Oller, on the other hand, gives Mankind a glowing review, calling it "the must-see show of Apple TV+" where "politics and science branch in ways pleasing for space junkies and astro-nots alike" while drawing comparisons to Mad Men, West Wing and The Martian with its "excellent" cast.
"Rather than pure golden glow, For All Mankind leaves you smiling and ugly crying at the same time, amazed that humanity has achieved so much despite all its stupid pettiness," Oller writes. "It wouldn’t be as amazing if they were all soft, warm Tom Hanks perfection."
TV Guide's Tim Surette calls the show's concept "wildly fascinating" and while it is slow to heat up, For All Mankind's "results are riveting and the possibilities — could you imagine what we would have accomplished if we continued to throw resources into the space program? MOON BASE!!! — are endless." He says that although a lot of male characters are flat and predictable, "the show tells its best stories with the women involved in the space program, be it the first class of female astronauts or the wives of the original astronauts. Thankfully, large chunks of episodes are devoted to them."
For All Mankind's first three episodes are set to bow Friday, with the remaining seven released weekly.