TV Top Pick #10: Mars

I’m finally watching a 2016-2018 two-season television series called Mars. It’s on Netflix (and Amazon) and consists of seven 60-minute episodes in the first season and six in the second. I find it captivating. The premise is alluring but it’s the composition that makes it so stunning.  The show combines documentary-style science reporting taking place currently, with extrapolations of present-day technology to forecast a very believable science fiction story taking place in 2033 and beyond. We see the first successful manned mission from Earth to Mars occur and watch the crew confront a host of obstacles during the creation of our first outpost there. Alternating between interviews with Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson and other leading scientists who explain the hurdles we’ll need to overcome to fictionalized characters actually meeting those challenges as the first mission to Mars while keeping people alive is riveting.

One of the things I most appreciate and believe they get correct is the balance between anticipated and unanticipated problems.  Even after years spent preparing for every possible scenario, almost half of what they encounter in the first few episodes are situations they’d not even considered might happen, had never imagined or just didn’t prepare for, making the science fiction portions feel brilliantly true to life.  As my friend Frank who recommended this show reminded me in the Mike Tyson line, “Everybody has a plan …. Until they get punched in the face.”

While I don’t expect to live long enough to see man land on Mars, the show makes clear how much of the work and problem solving needed to make this event possible is actually occurring right now, in my lifetime.  Earlier this week, on December 9th, 2020, SpaceX launched a prototype of a rocket that is integral to Musk’s plans to take people to Mars.  This mix of documentary footage with the Sci-Fi drama could have gone horribly wrong and looked stupid.  Instead, it is the opposite.  It really works!

I would be remiss if I did not mention the 2015 movie, The Martian, starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott. It is available on Amazon Prime and a very good movie, too.  I liked both The Martian and Mars, but with Mars being directed by Ron Howard and produced by National Geographic, I find it displays an uncommon perspective with a unique and creative approach.  In the end, it gets my vote for being ambitious, for trusting in the intelligence of its audience, and for being so bold.