PLATFORM: NETFLIX | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Oscar winner (it says here) Hilary Swank leads a commendably diverse bunch of heroic astronauts into space on the first mission to Mars in this chasmic cosmic melodrama that sometimes moves so ponderously that you’ll feel as if you’re on board the Atlas space vessel as it inches laboriously towards the Red Planet. Away is often as dull as ditch water – and sometimes even considerably duller – and yet there’s something oddly endearing about its formulaic plotting, its soap opera-level character development and incident and its transparent box-ticking that makes it an oddly fascinating and irresistible experience, even as whole episodes stagger by with absolutely nothing at all happening to inch the story along.
Chances are you’ll give Away the benefit of the doubt on the basis of its blisteringly good first episode in which we meet mission commander Emma Green (Swank) on the moon where her Mars vessel is being refuelled prior to setting off on its three-year mission. Emma’s crew don’t trust her because of a near-fatal accident on the way to the moon and back on Earth her husband Matt (Josh Charles) – a former astronaut grounded due to a serious health condition – and her moody teenage daughter Alexis (Talitha Bateman) – are trying to come to terms with the prospect of Emma’s protracted absence. Matt suffers a stroke on the eve of blast-off and Emma is torn between her familial and her professional duties. In the end she decides to carry on with the mission, but she’s constantly plagued by guilt and feelings of self-doubt even as she struggles to win the respect of her crew who, inevitably have their own demons as we discover in tortuous flashbacks throughout the series.
Away runs out of rocket fuel very quickly and by episode five or six (whole episodes pass without even a handy establishing shot of the spaceship to remind us of where we are), the story has pretty much ground to a halt and we’re drowning in the sickly saccharine of Emma’s long-distance relationship with her family and, in particular, Alexis’s rather tame rebellious phase as she starts to become resentful of her now-disabled father and her absent mother. Fortunately, the series pulls its space-socks up in its last couple of episodes as the Atlas approaches Mars and, for a while, it looks as if the mission might have to be abandoned because of dramatic plot twists that are a damn sight more interesting that much of the mawkishness we’ve endured across the previous six weeks or so.
Sluggish and formulaic, Away isn’t so much a science-fiction series as a family drama about relationships and human communication and interaction, and how people struggle to keep home and heart together when they can be millions of miles apart. It’s hard quite to see where Away can go next if there’s to be a second series without repeating the same heart-tugging beats, but there’s just about enough propulsion in the first episode of this run to keep your interest until the show picks up the pace in the home straight.