We’re past episode three of Channel 4’s breaking new hit series The First coming in under the radar of an astronaut-themed autumn which included Damien Chappel’s attempt at Oscar domination with First Man.
The First sees Sean Penn as Captain Tom Haggerty, the man given the task of training the first team of astronauts to fly to Mars, only to watch the day of the launch confounded in nervous tension at home on TV as the ship breaks up before it leaves Earth because of a misplaced coin.
From there Haggerty goes through the toils of personal and professional tragedy. He’s the man who’ll console the astronaut’s families in an airplane hangar with cheese and ham sandwiches and cheap bottles of champagne, he’s the man who’ll convince senators to reinvest in the space programme and continue to attempt to send the first man to Mars, and he’s the man who has to bring his daughter back from the brink of drink and drug addiction after her mother, and Haggerty’s wife, committed suicide in the river that runs along the back of their home. He’s also going to be the first man who actually goes to Mars.
The First is a triumph in exceptional yet understated TV production set in a future that isn’t overbearing on our senses- there’s a heavy lean towards electric power, TVs and telephones that are voice commanded and a couple of those automatic sliding doors like you used to get in Star Trek (without the bizarre whoosh sound), but apart from that The First offers a realistic sense of what the future will look like. Crisp, clean and rather stylish.
This combines with acting that is also very poignant; far more powerful expressions of emotion than screaming and shouting. It’s all lead by the brooding Penn, downcast and struggling to cope with understanding everything from what went wrong with the first launch to how to support his daughter through the rough shot ride of early adulthood.
The supporting cast is also exceptional including LisaGay Hamilton as the frustrated former commander of the mission, and Natascha McElhone as Laz, the unrelenting CEO of the whole program.
We won’t be able to find out if Haggerty makes it to Mars until the eagerly awaited second series, but from watching the ride so far, just seeing Penn and co try to get to the little red planet is good enough.
The First is on Channel 4 Thursdays at 9pm.