Series Review

'Away': This 'mission to Mars' drama series is a waste of TV space

Unimaginative telling and stereotyped characters make Netflix's latest show a disappointing watch

30 August 2020 - 00:00
Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki) and Emma Green (Hilary Swank) prepare for their journey to Mars in 'Away'.
Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki) and Emma Green (Hilary Swank) prepare for their journey to Mars in 'Away'.
Image: Supplied

As people in the real world continue their quest to make the journey to Mars a reality, cinema and television have streaked ahead to imagine what this as yet uncharted territory may look and feel like.

The exploration of space has provided creators with a vast canvas for the expression of human fears against the most awesome backdrop the universe has to offer. Space has given us the philosophical dread and imaginative awesomeness of Kubrick's 2001; the claustrophobic terrors of Tarkovsky's Solaris and Ridley Scott's Alien, and the nit-picking geeky accuracy of Gravity and The Martian.

Away, Netflix's new space drama about astronauts on a mission to Mars, created by Andrew Hinderaker and starring Hilary Swank, manages to waste every opportunity provided by its premise to create what's essentially a schmaltzy drama that happens to be set against the backdrop of the next boundary of human endeavour and invention.

Swank plays Emma Green, an American astronaut tasked with captaining a multi-national team on a three-year trip to Mars. She's spent her whole life preparing for this mission but of course that journey has also included getting married to her perfect husband, Matt (Josh Charles), and giving birth to her apparently perfect daughter Alexis (Talitha Eliana Bateman).

As she prepares to leave there are many heart-wrenching, goodbye-for-now-but-not-forever promises to be made. Things are not made easier when Matt suffers a stroke and must watch from his wheelchair as his wife bravely goes where no-one has been before.

The rest of the crew are similarly loaded with their uncomfortable dynamics — there's the closeted Chinese scientist Lu (Vivian Wu); the bad dad Russian, Misha (Mark Ivanir); the overachieving Indian with a dead brother, Ram (Ray Panthaki), and the adopted, half-Jewish, half-African Kwesi (Ato Essandoh).

Things begin promisingly enough with a tense episode involving a spectacular spacewalk to fix one of those technical problems that inevitably threaten lives, progress and reputation. Soon after this, the show slips into a predictable formula in which new crises lead to plenty of soul searching and back story for each of the crew in turn, before things are happily resolved and the mission continues on its plodding way.

The constant shifting back to the family crises of Matt and Alexis on Earth overtake any ambitions the show may have had to make the most of its intergalactic canvas.

WATCH | 'Away' trailer.

The cast of characters, who should offer an opportunity for profound examination of cultural difference overcome by universal aspirations, melt into shallow depictions of people we've seen a million times before. It's hard to care about anything that's troubling them when everything is depicted in such unimaginative squares of paint.

Halfway through the 10-episode yawn, it's difficult to resist screaming for someone to give birth to an alien. One can only be hit on the head with the obvious message that Swank's character is both a mother to her family on Earth and the mother of her crew so many times before you want to vomit from the sentimentality and cheesiness with which this is repeatedly demonstrated.

By the time the crew gets to Mars, you have to hope there are aliens waiting to meet them who'll be bored to tears by the inanities of their missed lives and memories of their loved ones on Earth, even if it's just so that we don't have to hear about them any more.

In spite of the cast's best efforts and a productive premise, Away is disappointingly and frustratingly ... a waste of space.

• 'Away' is available on Netflix from September 4.