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Netflix's 'Away' uses Mars mission to tell a timely story of isolation and aspirational ideals

By Tara Bennett
Hilary Swank in Netflix's Away

Netflix is taking us to Mars, and we got the inside story on how it'll look. As part of the CTAM (or Cable Telecommunications Association for Marketing) summer press tour for Netflix, reporters got a deeper look at their upcoming drama, Away, which dramatizes in the near future, the world's first human-led voyage to Mars. It stars Hilary Swank at U.S. Commander Emma Green, along with actors Ray Panthaki, Ato Essandoh, Mark Ivanir and Vivian Wu as members of her multi-national team of scientists and astronauts. 

Executive producer Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights), creator/EP Andrew Hinderaker and showrunner/EP Jessica Goldberg virtually collected their core cast to reveal an extended trailer and explain how they believe the show itself has evolved into an even more timely tale for our pandemic reality. 

Away Netflix

Opening the conversation, Katims explained: "We had shot the first season and were in post when we all had to go home and work remotely. Editors and producers and VFX were sending cuts back and forth trying to figure out how to do this without human interaction. We found ourselves rewatching cuts of the show that resonated like we never imagined. It's about [the characters] not being with people who are most important to you, making life decisions without your husband or kid, and not being able to step out into the world." And while Katims said the show is about many things, the core of the series is clearly even more rooted in revealing the human spirit and how, when its tested, what its capable of accomplishing. 

The 10-episode series debuts on September 4, 2020 and was born out of Katims reading astronaut Chris Jones' Esquire essay about being out in space while his family was rooted on Earth. While he admits he's not a "space show" guy, the idea stuck with him. "It really appealed to me, doing a show that was epic and grand with gravitas about space, but also about personal relationships."

He then connected with Hinderaker, who wrote the pilot, and Goldberg, who ran the day-to-day of Away. For his part, Hinderaker admitted that the hopefulness of space exploration was what hooked him. Yet in the year since they started production, he added that, "I do think now, more than ever, it's also time to remember what [humanity] is capable of, and to remember what happens when we believe in science and the world works together."

The show's cast was equally inspired by the hopeful nature of the series. Swank, also an EP on the series, said of her character, "The writers wrote such an immensely layered human being in [Emma]. I love that the Commander is a woman and that’s not the drama of the story. The drama is a story about richly different racial backgrounds, people working towards a goal but also the gravitational pull to their families on Earth, so it's also a love story. It's a dream come true of Emma's to lead a mission to mars, and being an unexpected mother and these other humans on this mission learn to break through stereotypes to connect us all."

Actor Ato Essandoh, who plays Kwesi, the least experienced Botanist of the team, added that what the story reveals to the audience a metaphorical path of clarity for how humanity is reacting to our current COVID-19 crisis. "Will we ever be able to shoot again?" he said with uncertainty about how U.S. film and television production has been grounded since March. "What we used to take for granted is now being challenged. To tell any story, we all need to come together and agree on the problem. It can’t be done piece-meal. It's about finding what will get us all to agree on the problem, and work together despite different religions and creeds."

All 10-episodes of Away drop on September 4, 2020 on Netflix.