It’s fair to say that Apple TV Plus does not have a particularly large library of content. For that reason I generally avoided the service because it didn’t seem like it was worth paying $5 a month. But even with its lack of a huge vault of content, Apple’s original programming is pretty darn good — especially my new favorite show, For All Mankind.
For All Mankind was one of Apple TV Plus’s launch titles and is now closing in on the end of its third season. Taking place in an alternate universe, the show explores what would have happened if the Soviet Union landed on the moon before the United States could.
On paper For All Mankind is full of stuff that I like. Alternate histories have always fascinated me, to the point where it was pretty much all I read when I was 19. Also, space is one of those childhood interests that never really went away. Oh, and co-creator Ronald D Moore is the man behind Battlestar Galactica and some of the best episodes of Star Trek
And yet I never really attempted to watch For All Mankind when it first debuted. The first time I watched an episode was a few weeks ago, just prior to the premiere of the third season. Boy, what a mistake that was.
For All Mankind's differences from our history are key
The first season of For All Mankind takes some time to get going. The first episode is so focussed on introducing this new version of history that it’s a real slog to get through. Thankfully I stuck with it. Mainly because I didn’t have anything else to watch at the time, but also because I was still intrigued by the concept.
Seeing how the space program could have played out, had the Russians not bowed out of the space race is fascinating to think about — let alone see. In our world the general public started to lose interest in the topic of space exploration, but in For All Mankind the continual pressure to try and beat the Soviet Union at something caused the U.S. to keep pushing the envelope.
That competition seems to have played a hand in the Soviet Union not collapsing in 1991. It’s never explained why, but it’s suggested that the USSR’s continued success in space played a key role. However, that situation became a little tentative as the superpower began to fall behind both NASA and private spaceflight companies.
For All Mankind shows how similar moments still play out
But, like I find with most alternate history, the really fascinating bit is how For All Mankind’s timeline interacts with ours. For instance, a conversation between Nelson Bradford and Margo Madison implies that the Challenger disaster never happened. It seems engineers spotted that the shuttle’s O-Ring could fail to form a seal in colder weather, so the fatal flight never happened.
Likewise season 3 pulled off its own version of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Though the show’s version focuses on Larry Wilson, the closeted gay man who also happens to be First Gentleman of the United States. The same man who proposed this universe’s version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to boot.
The fact that things are different, but still have links back to our own history, is what keeps me hooked and interested. In my experience the alternate history stories I liked the least were the ones that I didn’t have any context for. Because not knowing how things changed means the story might as well just be based in Westeros or Middle Earth.
Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of the show that I really do not like. Karen’s affair with Danny is creepy and borderline incestuous, and the fact that it’s causing his mental state to deteriorate in season 3 is really bugging me. The CGI can be pretty shocking too, and at times looks like the kind of stuff that would have been passable on TV in 2002 rather than 2022.
For All Mankind makes me appreciate our own history more
Watching For All Mankind is also helping me get hyped up for my upcoming trip to Orlando. While I can’t stop absent-mindedly worrying about trivial vacation logistics, like charging my rental car, watching the show means I’m pretty excited about heading back to the Kennedy Space Center.
For All Mankind diverged pretty early on in its story, and the stories we saw on screen are about as different from the real world as cheese is to chocolate.
But while the Kennedy Center may lack replicas of Jamestown base, or the remains of the Pathfinder shuttle, For All Mankind has still re-energized my appreciation of the space program. In particular the Saturn V and the Apollo missions from the ‘60s and ‘70s, which play a prominent role in the first season.
Plus seeing how the fictional NASA does things has piqued my interest in upcoming crewed-missions in the real world — like Artemis, which will see NASA return to the moon, and whatever lies beyond.
Plus, the last time I went to the Kennedy Center I had to cut my day short to drive back to the airport. This time I’ll have an entire day to explore the exhibits properly. And, since I’m going in November, I won’t have to worry about the July heat. It also helps that a ticket to Kennedy is about half the cost of entry to one of the major Orlando theme parks.
So far I still haven’t spent a penny on Apple TV Plus. Right now I’m able to watch because I managed to get a free trial — something Apple seems to be very keen on giving away. Will I be tempted to subscribe in the future?
I could easily see myself parting with a few handfuls of cash to watch future seasons of For All Mankind alongside Severance, Ted Lasso and whatever else I discover between now and the end of my free trial. For now, there are still three more episodes of For All Mankind’s third season still to come. And, based on everything that’s happened so far, they’re going to be one heck of a ride. I just hope it doesn’t get canceled.