Sean Pennsive

SFX - - Reviews -

Given that The First is about hu­man­ity look­ing to go where only ro­bots and probes have been be­fore and land on Mars, you’d be for­given for an­tic­i­pat­ing an ex­cit­ing blend of space travel, en­deav­our and just a touch of in­ter­per­sonal drama. Es­pe­cially since cre­ator Beau Wil­limon man­aged to graft high melo­drama onto poi­sonous pol­i­tics in House Of Cards.

This is def­i­nitely not that sort of se­ries, though. Cer­tainly, there are vis­its to the fu­tur­is­tic NASA fa­cil­ity, where we fol­low what hap­pens as per­son­nel changes are made and the sit­u­a­tion shifts rapidly when the first crew are trag­i­cally killed shortly af­ter launch. The last episode of the sea­son charts the sec­ond batch head­ing out on their at­tempt.

But make no mis­take, this is Sean Penn’s show. The fo­cus of the nar­ra­tive is his Tom Hagerty, a vet­eran rocket man who has walked on the Moon and had been in­volved in train­ing the crew for this new mis­sion. While we do see him fig­ur­ing out is­sues with the back-up as­tro­nauts and ar­gu­ing with the Elon Musk-es­que money source/vi­sion­ary Laz In­gram (Natascha McEl­hone), he spends most of his time brood­ing and try­ing to re­con­nect with ad­dict daugh­ter Denise (Anna Ja­cobyHeron). Penn here some­times seems so low key it’s as if some­one has fed him tran­quilis­ers. And he’s such a mass of knotty mus­cles and bulging veins you’d think he was au­di­tion­ing to play Guardians Of The Galaxy’s Groot with­out the aid of CGI.

You can see why this is the sort of role to lure Penn from his usual movie stomp­ing grounds; he gets to build a char­ac­ter over sev­eral hours, fill­ing in all the nu­ances and sub­tleties that even indie films rarely have the space to cover. And yet Hagerty rarely comes across as a fully fleshed-out per­son, even with an en­tire episode ded­i­cated to the tur­bu­lent re­la­tion­ship he had with Denise’s mother Di­ane (Melissa Ge­orge, do­ing a lot with a lit­tle). In­stead, Hagerty is a morose, one-note anger fac­tory who’s less than com­pelling to fol­low through the story.

Out­side of Tom, the rest of the crew get their lit­tle mo­ments to shine, in­clud­ing LisaGay Hamil­ton as his fel­low com­man­der, strug­gling with hav­ing her am­bi­tions thwarted and her opin­ions largely ig­nored be­cause ev­ery­one is will­ing to cut Hagerty ev­ery break imag­in­able.

The First feels a lit­tle like a bait-and-switch, as if you were promised some­thing along the lines of The Mar­tian, but in­stead of the as­tro­naut ac­tion watched eight hours of Matt Da­mon ag­o­nis­ing about how his po­ta­toes aren’t grow­ing prop­erly in poo. It’s well-acted, directed and writ­ten, but it’s not al­ways the most sat­is­fy­ing view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the planet. James White

Feels a lit­tle like a bait-andswitch

The room turned icy when Madonna was men­tioned.

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