TV preview: Apple TV+ original For All Mankind returns for a second series

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Apple TV+ was an ambitious project from the outset.

Home to a growing number of original titles, the streaming service has seen a range of shows including Dickinson and Servant recommissioned as part of multi-series deals.

For All Mankind is but the latest out of this world addition to join that very list, with series two set to land on the platform this February.

Depicting an alternate history in which the space race of the twentieth century never came to an end, the first series saw the United States and the Soviet Union compete for outer space supremacy.

Created by Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica), Ben Nedivi (Fargo) and Matt Wolpert (American Crime Story), For All Mankind stars The Killing’s Joel Kinnaman as astronaut Edward Baldwin, Patriot actor Michael Dorman as fellow astronaut Gordo Stevens and One Tree Hill star Shantel VanSanten as Edward’s partner Karen Baldwin.

Set in June 1969, the first series joins NASA at a time when Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov has just become the first man to land on the moon.

Beating Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface, this alternate timeline blends fact and fiction, as the Soviets rename the location the “Red Moon” and history as we know it is rewritten.

“One of the main reasons I jumped on this was ’cause the grander vision of this show is just so spectacular,” says Kinnaman, 41, of the project.

“It’s really fun to be part of something that in one way feels like sort of a historic project – we’re going back in time, but then, historically, we have the writers still having complete creative freedom.

“In the first season, it feels a little bit more contained than what the show actually is.

“It starts a little smaller, a little like Mad Men in NASA, and it reaches out into space and we have the US and the Soviets having bases on the moon.

“But now, in the second season, we really start to see the inklings of the grander vision of the show, so, that’s really exciting.”

A storyline that can only be described as the Cold War in space, season two sees audiences thrown forward a decade into the early 80s, entering an alternate reality in which President Ronald Reagan remains in power.

We find Kinnaman’s character, who commanded the failed landing of Apollo 10, working to recruit the next generation of NASA astronauts – all while helping to avoid nuclear war.

“You take a character and you get to know him and I feel like I’ve got him pretty much down,” says Kinnaman.

“And then you jump ten years – and also ten years after a tremendous loss, a life altering loss, so where do those ten years take you?

“Of course, the writers have some great ideas, but define how a person changes over ten years. Their physicality? Their outlook on life in relationship to other people?

“It’s a challenge, but it’s also what’s so rewarding and fun to explore.”

Away from the perils and adrenaline of the space race, audiences can expect their fair share of emotion following on from the loss of Edward and Karen’s son during season one.

“Our show uses space as the backdrop and the metaphor for each individual character and what they’re going through,” says VanSanten, 35.

“There’s so much tension and uncertainty in between the relationships on the show and within each character, so, that as a backdrop, compounded on top of what each partnership is going through, I’d definitely say it’s a cold war amongst many of us characters within and externally.”

It’s a partnership that brought with it its own set of unique emotional hurdles according to Kinnaman.

“There were some particular challenges for me and I think for Shantel as well,” notes the actor.

“We were portraying a family going through a horrible loss – and I think that’s always very difficult.

“I don’t think I’ve ever really had to dig as deep emotionally as some of these scenes demanded, but I was fortunate to have an incredible scene partner in Shantel that really helped us to descend into those depths.”

In many ways, the aspect that posed the greatest challenge for VanSanten was accepting her character, flaws and all.

“I want to grow, I want to be fearful and not know how I’m going to play scenes or characters and kind of discover it,” she says.

“It lives in your bones and it becomes a part of you that you never could have anticipated and now you can’t live without – and that was Karen for me.

“I didn’t necessarily like her when I first met her.

“When I first read her on the page, and through a lot of empathy and trying to understand where her reactions and thoughts and feelings came from, realising that it was based in fear, I understood her better and realised I was a lot more like her than I wanted to admit.”

Between NASA’s female-led diversity push that continues into series two and the show of strength from members of the “astronaut wives club” as it’s so often referred to, For All Mankind is a show that in many respects hands the power back to its female characters.

“I think it really pushed us females to the forefront,” says VanSanten.

“Ron Moore’s known for writing very strong female driven characters.

“While doing press for season one, I was very much ‘So, I’m Karen Baldwin, I’m the housewife’ and there’s such a strong stigma to that – the astronaut wives club or the housewife.

“Because us, as modern feminist women, don’t understand the pride that there was in that role; in leading the household, in wearing the pants behind the scenes and making sure everything runs and having children.

“And I really leaned into it and looked up to my grandmother – she was that woman and I think of what an inspiration she was for me.”

For All Mankind season two is on Apple TV+

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