New on Netflix, Away chronicles a group of astronauts on a roundtrip mission to Mars, as well as the complicated feelings of their families back on Earth.
In Away, Commander Emma Green (Hillary Swank) leads an international mission to Mars, aboard the Atlas, with second in command Ram Arya; Dr. Lu Wang (Vivian Wu), who is meant to be the first person to set foot on the red planet; Russian cosmonaut Misha Popov, who has spent more time in space than anyone else; and botanist Kwesi Weisberg-Abbas, who has never been in space before. Meanwhile, at home, Emma’s husband, Matt (Josh Charles), and daughter, Alexis (Talitha Eliana Bateman), cope with a sudden health crisis and first love.
Although Commander Green and her family’s love story are the narrative drive of the series, Away makes good use of its talented ensemble cast, exploring the complicated personal lives of the astronauts and their relationships with each other. The writers do a lovely job of connecting their pasts thematically to issues arising on the mission without the flashbacks feeling forced. My favorite episode focused on the backstory of Kwesi, a Jewish transracial adoptee from Ghana and England, and how he developed his passion for plants and his faith. Through these backstories, Away showcases a diversity of perspectives and wonderful character development.
Additionally, the show mixes a variety of genres really well. The hook is obviously the science fiction element presented by the mission to Mars, and the production value for the sets and effects that entails is very high. I was impressed by how much the series looks like a blockbuster movie. The space travel narrative is mixed with a healthy dose of romance and family drama. There are two love stories woven into the story of the mission; both are compelling and sympathetic. I was pleasantly surprised by how invested I became in the family story of Misha as well.
These threads are brought together not only by the strong cinematography and effects, but also by the fantastic performances of the ensemble. The chemistry between the astronauts is especially strong and each actor imbues their character with emotional depth and the nuance needed for the complicated issues they face. I think it is a testimony to both the writers and the actors that there was never a character whose story I was bored with and wanted to move past to get back to the main plot.
Because Away is so character driven, it is not as fast paced as other shows in this genre might be, but the stories are gripping and I really enjoyed watching them come together. The show also deals deftly with themes such as the personal sacrifices needed for pursuing excellence and the international cooperation needed for a better future. For those who are looking for an action-packed space show, this series is probably not the first pick, but I think the characters are worth sticking with the slow pilot in order to get really hooked on the story.
My only real complaints about Away are the pilot and the music. At first, Away plays a bit too much like a space soap opera. I am so glad that I stayed with the show, but my husband bailed out. He is going to go back and watch after I enjoyed it so much, but the pilot is perhaps not the best representation of how the show develops. Similarly, I sometimes found the music to be distractingly dramatic. I would have preferred a more subtle soundtrack, particularly around emotional moments for Commander Green.
I recommend Away for its great writing, high production value, and excellent performances. I hope that Netflix renews the show for a second season so that I can see what happens next for the crew of the Atlas.
Away was created by Andre Hinderaker. It is rated TV-14 and runs for 10 episodes on Netflix.
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