Netflix wants to send you Away into space with a new emotional drama from Parenthood EP Jason Katims.
I’m not sure you should let it.
The series follows Commander Emma Green (Hilary Swank) leading an international crew on the first mission to Mars. The crew battles both the challenges of space travel and the emotional toll of leaving their loved ones behind on Earth.
Here’s what you need to know about Away.
Away establishes itself early on as a drama grounded in reality. It’s not a sci-fi adventure with alien monsters and laser blasters. It’s space travel as we know it today.
This setup is established through both plot points and some solid special effects. I definitely have to give credit to both the actors and the effects team on Away; the way the crew of the Atlas manages to weightlessly bounce around the shuttle really makes it seem like they’re in space. In general, the acting on the series is quite good.
Structurally, the early episodes tied each plot-related Atlas crisis into an emotional backstory for one of the international astronauts. Some of these worked better than others, but overall the structure added to the series; it definitely helped develop the characters and establish the personalities aboard the spaceship. Did it get a bit tiresome that everyone’s motivation comes from some tragic past? Yes. But it’s the kind of concession I’m willing to make when I sign on to watch a drama. After all, if life’s been nothing but smooth sailing (er, space flying?) there’s not much dramatic tension.
I also want to give a little shout out to Misha and Lu, whose friendship was by far my favorite relationship in the series.
At the heart of any drama – whether it’s set in space or on Earth – is, well, the drama. Does the plot escalate naturally to more dire situations? Do the characters’ emotional arcs rise, resolve, and reset to something new?
This is where Away starts drifting into space.
Unfortunately, when Away runs out of crew members to cycle through, the episode structure shifts to a more typical drama format. And with that typical drama format comes some typical drama clichés. By the time the finale rolls around, we’ve got not one, but two (unrequited?) love triangles. Ugh.
And then there’s the actual plot drama. Frankly, it’s always a struggle to make each new challenge the characters face feel more difficult than the last. Away faces the additional challenge of trying to keep these problems grounded in a realistic space mission setting.
It doesn’t really work.
While some events do feel different and escalate the tension, once again Away fails to stick the landing. For instance, episode 2 features two crew members completing a spacewalk to make an emergency repair to the ship. A spacewalk, the show tells us, is the most dangerous thing an astronaut can do. Which is great when it’s in episode 2! We’re left thinking, Wow, what could come next? What could possibly escalate the tension more than a space walk?
Apparently, the show decided…another space walk.
Yeah. The climactic ending involves a second spacewalk. Even worse, it manages to feel like a less dangerous spacewalk than the first. (The first had someone being forced to untether themselves from the ship, thus risking drifting out into space. The second? None of that.) It just feels…meh.
Away: The Bottom Line
Away sets up an ambitious space drama, but ultimately falls back on tired tropes. In the end, the plot fails to escalate in any interesting way.
Away arrives on Netflix September 4.