It’s not exactly clear why this is the case, but the various streaming networks have all attempted — with varying degrees of success — to launch their own astronaut-themed series. In fact, both Apple TV+ and Disney+, launched their services with an astronaut series onboard, while Netflix has created three astronaut-themed shows in recent years. Even Hulu and Showtime have gotten in the game, as well.
If you love shows about astronauts but are selective about which shows to watch, here’s a quick guide to the best and worst currently featured on the various streaming platforms.
7. Another Life (Netflix)
Another Life is technically an astronaut drama — Katee Sackhoff plays an astronaut who leads her team on a high-risk mission to explore the genesis of an alien artifact — but unlike the others on this list, it’s less about the space program and more science-fiction. It is more like a bad version of Alien than it is a bad version of Apollo 13, but rest assured that it is bad. Very bad. All one needs to understand about how bad it is that there is a very long rave on the spaceship in one episode. Otherwise, it’s a tepid parade of bad sci-fi tropes, and it never once manages to distinguish itself except in how badly it wastes the talents of Katee Sackhoff. (The series was renewed for a second season, due out in 2021).
6. Moonbase 8 (Showtime)
Fred Armisen, John C. Reilly, and Tim Heidecker created this absurdist comedy about three woefully incompetent astronauts living in a simulated moon environment in an effort to earn the right to fly to the moon. The three had to shop the series around for a while, and it only landed at Showtime when the network was desperate for content at the outset of the pandemic. It’s easy to see why it wasn’t immediately picked up. It’s not that Moonbase 8 is that bad, it’s that it is very specific — it tries to find the comedy in the mundane, but it often only ends up highlighting the mundanity. The best and funniest part of the show, in fact, is the bizarre appearance of Travis Kelce — the tight-end of the Kansas City Chiefs — who appears in the opening episode before being hilariously killed off. It’s all downhill from there. (Showtime has not yet picked up a second season of the series).
5. Space Force (Netflix)
There’s an immense amount of talent involved in the Netflix comedy — Steve Carell, Lisa Kudrow, John Malkovich, Jimmy O. Yang, Tawny Newsome, and Ben Schwartz star in the series created by Greg Daniels (The Office) — but the series ultimately feels like what it is, which is a show based on a Donald Trump brain fart (a brain fart that would later become a reality). Space Force is something of a workplace comedy, only the workplace is full of astronauts, engineers, and command center operatives, and unlike The Office, there is nothing about their jobs with which the audience can relate. It’s a show that viewers will definitely want to like, but it’s so grating and obnoxious that it proves to be almost impossible. (The series was renewed for a second season in November 2020).
4. The First (Hulu)
The First stars Sean Penn and comes from Beau Willimon (House of Cards), and the opening episode hooks the viewer in with a massive rocket explosion, killing everyone on board. Unfortunately, the series — about an effort to send the first manned mission to Mars — stalls after the premiere episode as it gets bogged down in uninteresting family drama. Unfortunately, it’s less about the space mission, which doesn’t take off until the finale, and more about the emotional toll a two-and-a-half-year journey to Mars can take on a family, specifically the daughter of Sean Penn’s character. Everything else between the explosion in the first episode and the take-off in the final episode is a relationship drama, and not a particularly good one, at that. (Canceled after one season)
3. Away (Netflix)
Away is thematically similar to The First — it’s about the toll a trip to Mars takes on the family of its astronauts — but at least in this one, the relationship and family drama takes place in space instead of on the ground back on Earth. While the astronauts are dealing with their problems at home, they also have problems with which to deal in space, like fixing the water filtration system (an issue the astronauts spend several episodes contending with). It’s designed to be a weepy space drama, and it is at times emotionally affecting, but the show moves so slowly that it’s often difficult to invest too much into the characters at the center of it. (Canceled after one season).
2. The Right Stuff (Disney+)
The Right Stuff is based on Tom Wolfe’s nonfiction book about the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program back in the 1960s. As an adaptation of Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff is a misfire. On the other hand, as a series about the early years of America’s space program, it is entertaining and occasionally insightful. It’s interesting to get a glimpse into the early lives of men who are now well known for their accomplishments in the space program — Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and Gordon Cooper, among others — but the space exploits in the series are often constrained by history itself. Disney+, meanwhile, rounds off some of the harder edges in the personal lives of the astronauts to make it more palatable for their audience, but in doing so, it sacrifices some of the drama. (The Right Stuff has aired for one season; it’s still unclear whether it will be renewed for a second).
1. For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
For All Mankind is easily the best of the recent astronaut-themed series, and it’s not close. For All Mankind picks up several years after The Right Stuff (there are, in fact, some overlapping characters) and offers an alternate version of history in which the space race with Russia did not end. In this version of history, the Russians were the first to land on the moon, and the Americans spent the next several years trying to play catch-up by, for instance, trying to land the first woman on the moon or becoming the first to build a space station there.
Like several of the series above, For All Mankind — which stars Joel Kinnaman, Michael Dorman, Shantel VanSanten, Jodi Balfour, and Wrenn Schmidt, among others — is also about the emotional toll the job of astronaut takes on a family, but the alternative history allows creator Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Gallactica) to introduce women and people of color into the space program while keeping the events in space themselves exciting, intense, and unpredictable. For All Mankind is not just the best astronaut series of the streaming era, it’s the best astronaut television series period, combining elements of Apollo 13 and Gravity into a suspenseful, emotional, and incredibly satisfying roller coaster ride. (For All Mankind has aired one season and has been renewed for a second and third season. The second season will bow in February 2021).