The First premieres September 14th on Hulu.
[Ed. note: Being that TV and City is on a bit of a hiatus, this article has not been edited.]
By John Baker
Man’s desire to put his proverbial feet on the soil of Mars is once again explored in a new Hulu series titled, “The First.”
But this sci-fi offering comes at the process for getting to Mars a little differently and, I must admit, a little more interestingly.
Sean Penn stars in this new series and delivers a somewhat somber, subtle performance as Tom Hagerty, a man with a lot of past to deal with. Hagerty was the original mission commander on the Providence 1 mission, the original mission to Mars. But, he was replaced as commander and had to watch in horror as the crew he trained, and planned to land on Mars with, were vaporized in a launch mishap.
And that shapes what runs through the whole first season of “The First.” Penn does a great job of conveying a man who has plenty of hurts in his life — dead crew, dead wife, estranged daughter with a drug problem, and a diminished sense of self worth — and the weight they add to his day-to-day life.
The destruction of the Providence 1 mission changes everything — for everyone.
The Mars mission project has NASA overtones, but in “The First” it’s a private endeavor that is getting financial assistance from the government. That means there’s plenty of political hoops to jump through and Hagerty starts to get his feet back under him by assisting Laz Ingram, who runs the private organization (and who grounded him the first time) with fundraising and navigating the personal and professional hurdles that come with a first-time failure.
And that’s the basis of “The First,” a look at the backside of the work that goes into funding, developing, building and ultimately failing or succeeding in something pretty amazing. If you’re looking for a sci-fi offering that’s going to deliver lots of space, plenty of aliens and action galore, “The First” is not your cup of tea.
Instead, it’s a drama about the people who make something like this happen — and the personal and professional struggles they must navigate to be part of it. “The First” doesn’t jump off the screen at you, but instead offers interesting and intimate looks at the people in and around the project — what makes them tick, what haunts them, hurts them and motivates them. In truth, the show builds slowly, but I was intrigued enough by the characters to stay with it and liked what I saw.
Penn, as noted, is solid as a man trying to move forward with a ton of baggage and a desire to help his daughter heal while getting a second chance to go to Mars. He’s not alone, though as Natascha McElhone brings such an interesting vibe to Ingram. And while the show bounces primarily off those two, the other characters are plenty to do as they get ready for a second chance at Mars. A personal nice surprise was the appearance of Oded Fehr as Eitan Hafri, the man in charge of the ship’s design. His work is always interesting.
Rey Lucas, Brian Lee Franklin, T.C. Matherne, LisaGay Hamilton, Hannah Ware, Anna Jacoby-Heron and the rest of the cast do an entertaining job of pulling us behind the curtain a bit and giving us glimpses into a lot of what we likely don’t see under such a project. I don’t know how much of what we see are scenarios that actually happen, but they are certainly plausible enough to give us pause and think about those issues.
Don’t worry, though, Penn and his crew do make it into space at last. The many starts, stops, personnel changes, etc., don’t stop a project that those involved feel is vital to the future of the world. By the final episode of season 1, Hagerty and shipmates are, indeed, in space and set for a trip that will last two years.
Again, “The First’ is not a show that’s going to blow you away with action. Instead, it’s a look at the personalities, shortcomings, and frailties that a crew trying to do the impossible must manage to make the impossible — possible.
“The First” will not be for everyone’s taste. I can see that clearly. But if you enjoy a look into people’s lives as they explore the side of us all that makes us special, then “The First” is worth taking some time with.
I give The First a B-.