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TV Series Review

Are we there yet?

Everyone who's ever taken kids on a road trip has heard that before. Parents everywhere are familiar with the whining and crying, the queries to stop for ice cream, the pleas to get to a bathroom.

And then, after what seems like hours, you're able to pull out of the driveway and begin your trip in earnest.

Now, imagine a "road trip" to Mars—minus not just the roads, but even the precedent. It's a 33.9-million-mile journey to the Red Planet, with nary a gas station or fast-food joint along the way. The only vehicle that can get you there is an extraordinarily huge, inconceivably expensive craft powered by roughly 5 bazillion tons of highly explosive rocket fuel. Why, just building the thing and plotting the course took thousands of people years to do.

None of that prep and planning guarantees a successful trip, either. And if something goes awry on this trek into space, the upshot is far worse than spending an extra night in the roadside Roach-a-Rama.

And even if everything goes just right—if the rocket goes up without a hitch—you've got the journey itself to contend with, spending another few years looking at the same four faces day after day after day.

Are we there yet? When it comes to Mars, maybe the real question is, Why leave at all?

We Have Liftoff

Everyone in The First asks that question, whether to go at all, and sometimes they ask it again and again. The query itself holds a special poignancy, given that the first manned trip to Mars ended in disaster mere moments after it began.

Tom Hagerty was supposed to be on that original craft. And when Tom watched the spaceship explode on television, he felt more than the shock that any of us would: He saw his friends—people he picked to sit in those ill-fated seats—die.

Now he's been tasked with leading a new mission to Mars, even though he's got plenty of worries right here on earth, too. His daughter, a former drug addict, is now back home, struggling to stay clean. And he'd like to do whatever he can to help her stay that way.

For Laz Ingram, CEO of the aerospace company Vista, the failed launch was equally horrific. After all, it was her rocket that exploded, her craft that failed. For eight years, Vista's best and brightest worked in partnership with NASA to make the project a reality. When it ended in catastrophe, Laz wondered whether she could even go on, much less try to go to space again. But now, she feels that such a mission is not only possible, but critical. And somehow, Laz must convince understandably wary politicians and investors to embrace her vision once more.

And then we come to the astronauts themselves—men and women with families and futures of their own. They, along with the rest of the world, watched as their friends died on that ill-fated launch pad. They, better than anyone, know the risks involved with space travel. But they each accept those risks.

Why leave at all? Each man and woman involved with this mission might answer that question differently. But each believes that whatever the risks of failure are, it's better than the guaranteed failure of staying put.

In Space, They Can Hear You Swear

Slate says that The First is "more interested in bureaucracy than in intergalactic travel," and that feels about right. This isn't about fighting H.G. Welles' War of the Worlds Martians or even farming potatoes, à la The Martian. In some ways, it's not about Mars at all, but rather, just how difficult it is to get there.

But that allows the show to provide thrills of a different sort: As they say, getting there is half the fun.

The First is, in several ways, a surprisingly grounded sci-fi show. It delights in engineering problems; closed-door budgetary meetings; and the small, personal dramas that take place in each and every home. It feels both intellectual and inspirational: The First doesn't provide us with villains, just a bunch of well-meaning people pursuing what they feel is right. And most of them embrace a common, literally out-of-this-world goal.

For many viewers, though, The First may still have a hard time clearing orbit.

The show does not feel particularly gratuitous. Its realistic, bureaucratic conceit eliminates any need for martial arts fight scenes or shootouts. And while romance is in the offing for some characters, The First doesn't dally in the bedroom, at least early on in the series.

But Hulu slapped The First with a TV-MA rating for a reason, and that reason seems to be its language. F-words aren't uncommon here. Behind-the-door, off-the mic conversations can turn incredibly crass, even juvenile. Drug, tobacco and alcohol use can be issues, as well.

Anchored by Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn and Designated Survivor's excellent Natascha McElhone, The First boasts some first-rate performances. And it's nice that Hulu took the time to craft such a strong, smart show. But it is too bad that they didn't take the extra step to ensure that more folks could see it.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Sept. 14, 2018: "Separation"



Readability Age Range




Sean Penn as Tom Hagerty; Natascha McElhone as Laz Ingram; LisaGay Hamilton as Kayla Price; Hannah Ware as Sadie Hewitt; Keiko Agena as Aiko Hakari; Rey Lucas as Matteo Vega; James Ransone as Nick Fletcher; Anna Jacoby-Heron as Denise Hagerty; Brian Lee Franklin as Lawrence; Oded Fehr as Eitan Hafri; Annie Parisse as Ellen Dawes; Jeannie Berlin as the President






Record Label




On Video

Year Published



Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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