Extraterrestrial exploration has seen its resurgence on screen again in the recent years. Brad Pitt has gone into space looking for his missing father in Ad Astra; Eva Green has parted with her daughter for an ISS mission in Proxima; Matt Damon was stranded alone on Mars in The Martian. Now, it’s time for two-time Academy Award winner, Sean Penn (Mystic River, Milk) to go ad astra per aspera himself, but on a smaller screen. Starring in FIRST, Penn portrays Tom Hagerty, an astronaut prepared for the first human mission to Mars.
Penned by the writer of House of Cards and The Ides of March, the 8-episode series follows the preparation of the mission to Mars. A recent manned mission program has failed spectacularly on launch as the rocket malfunctioned and killed all crews. This probes Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone, Ronin, The Truman Show), CEO of Vista co-running the mission with NASA, to drag Hagerty to command a mission he was once attached to while she’s cleaning up the legal scrape from the first mission.
The next thing we know, Hagerty is commanding a new group of astronauts (that includes LisaGay Hamilton, Rey Lucas, Keiko Agena, Hannah Ware and James Ransone). The crew will soon struggle with rushed preparation mired in with bureaucracies and technologies to prepare them for a safe launch to the space. However, the real conflicts root back on Earth, with people and lives they’re going to leave behind. As for Hagerty, the problem will be leaving his daughter, Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron), who has recently struggled with her addiction and coping-up with the loss of her mother. As time ticks off, problems begin to plague the mission one by one while it’s still on Earth.
While the on-screen technology has advanced beyond what we have right now, the narrative of FIRST is much grounded as the plot revolves around conflicts on the literal ground. The closest it gets to the space happens on the first and the last episode only. The focus is never about high-profile spectacles on space, but rather some dramatic moments on Earth. Dramatic conflicts are mostly interpersonal, but they might pose potential danger to the whole mission logically speaking even when the resolutions sometimes are only hinted at or happening off screen.
Pacing isn’t always FIRST’ main concern; the series often jumps forward in time (like in periods of months) and is only stitched together with Adam Stone’s Malickian cinematography. Penn also excels in a rather congested story; but, as in Willimon’s other series, female characters have more interesting storylines, as in Denise’ storyline that feels more wholesome in completing Hagerty’s story.
For a story about space exploration, FIRST spends a lot of time on Earth and that’s its most enticing element. As the series tagline exclaims, “to go beyond, we must look within.”
Created by Beau Willimon (House of Cards), FIRST, originally titled, The First, was first ordered by ‘Hulu’ in co-production with British ‘Channel 4’. The series was first released on 14 September 2018 on Hulu and debuted in the UK on 1 November 2018. Mola TV holds the rights for the series’ exclusively streams in Indonesia.
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