The next generation "Streaming Wars" will officially begin this Friday (Nov. 1) with the launch of Apple TV+, Apple's subscription streaming platform. With the service's debut, customers will have access to a handful of new series, including two major genre projects: See and For All Mankind. With the platform just days away from arrival, critics are now allowed to offer up their thoughts on the new shows set to anchor the launch.
Produced and directed by Francis Lawrence (Catching Fire, Red Sparrow), See stars Jason Momoa (Aquaman) as Baba Voss, a strong tribal leader in a futuristic world where humanity has lost the ability of see. When babies start being born with the long-forgotten "power," a deadly struggle kicks off between Voss and Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks), a twisted despot who wishes to kill the children gifted with sight. Sadly, the intriguing premise isn't enough to compensate for a real lack of creative vision.
"Episodes aren't all clever or action-packed and Momoa's performance is much less engaging in non-physical terms," wrote Daniel Fienberg of The Hollywood Reporter. "See, which covers nearly 18 years in three episodes, is dramatically choppy throughout and frequently self-indulgently slow, as if to guarantee that production got value out of its time traipsing through the wilderness."
Variety's Daniel Daniel D'Addario echoed those sentiments when he wrote:
"Spiraling away from narrative control as its first three episodes unreel, this series, about a post-apocalyptic future in which nearly everyone is blind, wastes the time of Jason Momoa and Alfre Woodard, among others, on a story that starts from a position of fun, giddy strangeness and drags itself forward at a lugubrious pace. Source material would have provided structure (which many original properties have, but this one certainly does not). It also might have provided a control of tone. Knight, director/EP Francis Lawrence, and showrunner Dan Shotz have made a show whose elaborate look and grave tone aim for Game of Thrones, but whose content is lower of brow and, sadly, of quality."
Ben Travers of IndieWire wasn't all that impressed either, but could at least appreciate the project's overall weirdness and fleeting moments of excitement.
"A certain suspension of disbelief is required for a post-apocalyptic fantasy titled See about an unseeing society — that much is obvious — and there are plenty of cool sword-fights where a combatant will pivot and thrust into a precise spot without any explanation for how they knew where to stab, or even how they knew an opponent (not an ally) was standing there," he wrote. "Momoa, meanwhile, fits the role well — so well, it’s like they named the character after him — but he’s still a far cry from multidimensionality ... Momoa isn’t a subtle performer, and scenes where he’s forced to wrestle with tough decisions or face his inner demons require Baba’s facial scars to speak for him."
See was created by Steven Knight, the mind behind Peaky Blinders. In addition to Momoa and Woodard, it also co-stars Yadira Guevara-Prip, Nesta Cooper, Archie Madekwe, Christian Camargo, and Hera Hilmar.
For All Mankind, on the other hand, is a period drama that imagines what would have happened if the USSR won the Space Race in 1969 by landing a Cosmonaut on the moon ahead of America's planned Apollo 11 mission. This shocker throws the United States all out of whack, prompting NASA to work even harder to outpace the Russians in humanity's aspiration to reach for the stars. As a result, female astronauts come into the picture much earlier than they did in our regular timeline.
Co-conceived by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), the alternate history series — which stars Joel Kinnaman (The Suicide Squad) and Michael Dorman (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) — has been faring better with critics than See.
"Of the original series launching Apple’s streaming TV service Monday, For All Mankind is by far the strongest, especially because it makes the most of its budget and subsequent capacity to dream a bit bigger than most," said Variety's Caroline Framke. "Its production and costume design evolve to fit the changing times, and its handsome direction shines brightest in space. The writing has some shaggy tendencies, as could probably be expected of a show this ambitious."
THR's Tim Goodman also praised the world-building, but was a little let down by some boring stretches.
"The world building between the Houston headquarters of NASA and the Florida setting of the launch meshes nicely with the intricately detailed sense of time and place that the clothes, houses, cars, attitudes, consumer items, television and the rest of it denotes. But there's a familiarity there as well from every astronaut/space movie you might have seen (though again, it's still visually impressive). The stories tend to be plodding. Part of that is that outside of the women-in-space angle, introduced in episode three ("Nixon's Women"), we get a lot of astronauts-are-rock-stars and their-wives-could-not-be-more-proud-of-them, once again too familiar by half even though two excellent actors, Joel Kinnaman and Michael Dorman, play the leads."
Steve Greene of IndieWire took apart the project's alternate history premise, writing:
"Beyond the hurdles presented by its shallow bench of central characters, For All Mankind falls prey to a classic alt-history conundrum. Every evocation of real-world parallels either feels like a condemnation of those people who didn’t do their homework or an obligatory nod to those who have. Every evocation of John Glenn or Chappaquiddick or any other square on the ‘60s/‘70s Bingo card is delivered with the subtlety of a hammer blow or a self-satisfied slickness. For All Mankind is quick to point out these changes, but rarely has the time or interest to thoughtfully consider what comes in their wake."
The show also features performances from Jodi Balfour, Sarah Jones, Shantel Vansanten, Wrenn Schmidt, Krys Marshall, Arturo Del Puerto, Olivia Trujillo, and Sonya Walger.