Roush Review: Hilary Swank Heads to Mars in Netflix's 'Away'
Blasting off to Mars on an inaugural three-year mission, a team of astronauts knows there's a good chance they'll never return. One question: Where'd they store all of their emotional baggage?
Netflix's Away, from executive producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights) and created by Andrew Hinderaker, operates on several levels, at its best as a gripping and spectacularly produced cinematic space drama. Many of its 10 episodes play like a serialized Apollo 13, with one life-threatening crisis after another requiring ingenious and improvisational solutions to impossible problems. The physical and mental stresses of extended space travel also take its toll as tensions flare among the international crew.
But Away aspires to be a tearjerker as well, examining — in sometimes tedious detail — the personal sacrifices made by these explorers. This weighs most heavily on Cdr. Emma Green (a convincingly raw Hilary Swank), a happily married mother who becomes more distraught the further she gets from her husband, Matt (The Good Wife's Josh Charles as a NASA engineer with health issues), and teenage daughter, Lex (Talitha Bateman).
While it's undeniably wrenching to know you'll soon be losing direct contact with your loved ones the longer you travel into the cosmos, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't itching to get back to deep space every time the story turned to Lex and her too-good-to-be-true boyfriend, who introduces her to dirt biking (against her father's ... yawn ... wishes).
The soap opera storylines unfolding aboard the Atlas are much more intriguing, including the backstories of a cynical Russian veteran cosmonaut (Mark Ivanir) who challenges Emma's authority while mourning his estrangement from his own family; an upbeat British botanist from Ghana (Ato Essandho) who's new to space and leans on faith to see him through a water crisis; and a seemingly humorless Chinese chemist (Vivian Wu) who represses her emotions as she prepares to represent her motherland as the first human to step foot on Mars.
The closer they get, the more perilous their journey becomes. Still, there's nothing like an awe-inspiring space walk to lift the spirits, and as the Atlas nears the red planet, you may find your eyes reddening with tears as well.
Away, Series Premiere, Friday, September 4, Netflix