Warning: This article contains mild spoilers for “The First.”
Hulu released “The First,” a new original series, on Sept. 14, 2018. Hulu originals often fall short when compared to originals from Netflix or HBO. Shows like “The Path” are aggravating at best, but there are the occasional gems, such as “The Handmaid’s Tale.” While “The First” may not be a gem, it’s still beautifully polished.
Created by Beau Willimon, known for his work on the Netflix original “House of Cards,” “The First” is a show about the people who will, one day, be the first people to set foot on Mars. But you’ll have to wait for season two to see if they ever make it to the red planet.
“The First” documents the preparation for a manned mission to Mars over the course of eight episodes, though it easily could be told in three or four. The story often feels a little slow and drawn out. To be fair though, preparing for space travel is slow and drawn out. Having the show move at a faster pace would mean that the story could have progressed further, but it wouldn’t allow for some of the more creative and touching elements of the series to shine through.
Those expecting to find an adventure driven tale of humanity’s reach for the stars will be disappointed to find “The First” is closer to a family drama. Explorations of science and politics are doled out sparingly, focusing more on crew relationships. However, I find the show to be a refreshing take on how space travel may affect families. Deciding whether or not to leave your family and friends behind for years on a mission where there is a high chance for failure is ample material for a show about relationships. “The First” explores this choice in depth through mission commander Tom Hagerty’s (Sean Penn) relationship with his daughter Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron).
“The First” features a plethora of strong female characters, with an almost even split of male and female roles. The women in “The First” are powerful, intelligent and extremely well-written. It is unsurprising that a majority of the writers for the show, and half of the episodes’ directors, are women.
Overall, the series is surprisingly emotional, and I found myself tearing up on more than one occasion. “The First” shows us an attainable future and a mere glimpse of what will be possible over the next decade. During the season finale, when the rocket finally takes off, I couldn’t help getting a little misty-eyed.
To Binge or Not to Binge?
With only eight episodes at 45 minutes each, “The First” is a relatively quick binge, although with the poor pacing, the show does drag on at times. I admit there were occasions I wanted to scream, “Get to the point already.” Ultimately though, I found that the premise was a unique tactic to tell the story of humanity’s struggle to become an interplanetary species. If you don’t mind the pacing of films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Interstellar” then you should have no problem with the pacing of “The First.” If you’re like me and will devour anything space related, then you’ll likely find “The First” captivating. If you’re more interested in something fast-paced and exciting like “The Martian,” then this show may not be right for you.
Since the series is relatively short, view it as a long film rather than a show. I found it nice to cozy up on the couch with a mug of tea and enjoy the entire series in a single afternoon. The show also allows for discussions on the reality of interplanetary space travel. If you can, find someone to join you and speculate about the future of humanity as you watch.
The most affecting episode is one which doesn’t have anything to do with the space mission. Acting as a stand-alone episode, “Two Portraits,” directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven, is the fifth episode of the series and is possibly one of the most powerful. Flashbacks are brightly lit against a black background, allowing for Denise, one astronaut’s daughter, to fully explore how her parent’s relationships with one another influenced her growing up. The episode is a perfect example of how the show isn’t a story about a Martian exhibition, but about the people involved in and affected by the mission. The mid-season episode allows Penn and Jacoby-Heron’s characters to truly flourish.
The other episode directed by Ergüven, “Collisions,” is also a favorite of mine. Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone), an Elon Musk-inspired CEO, spends the duration of the episode answering, and sometimes dodging, questions from an influential reporter. Laz is portrayed as cold at times, but by the sixth episode, I felt a strong affection and appreciation for her character. Laz is one of the many strong female roles in “The First,” and this episode allows the viewer to get to know her.
“Mars,” “The Expanse,” “The New Frontier” and “Lost in Space.”
There is a character who struggles with a drug addiction. The show also deals with the topic of suicide through flashbacks. Otherwise, general adult themes are shown, such as drinking and profanity.
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Available to stream on Hulu
8 episodes, Approximately 6 hours
(Tip: You can get Hulu free with a student Spotify account.)