Granger on Film: ‘For All Mankind’ offers enigmatic twist to the space race

A scene from “For All Mankind” on AppleTV+

A scene from “For All Mankind” on AppleTV+

AppleTV+ / Contributed photo

Apple TV+ often gets lost among the many streaming services, but several of its shows are among the best. One of my current favorites is “For All Mankind,” which poses the question: What if the Soviet Union had won the space race, reaching the moon before the United States?

Created by Ronald D. Moore (“Star Trek,” “Battlestar Galactica”), it’s a sprawling story, beginning in 1969, presenting an alternative historical reality in which the United States is struggling to keep up with the USSR in space exploration, interweaving cleverly “fictionalized” real-life characters.

At NASA headquarters in Houston, the plot revolves around astronauts Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) and Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) who were piloting Apollo 10 but ordered not to land on the moon. That decision enabled a Russian cosmonaut to arrive first, infuriating then President Nixon.

With NASA in turmoil, tempers flare. There’s scientist Wernher von Braun (Colm Feore) clashing with Deke Slayton (Chris Bauer), who heads the astronaut program, and Gene Kranz (Eric Ladin), the flight director who runs Mission Control.

A confidante of Von Braun, Margo Madison (Wrenn Smith) is the first woman at Mission Control, while Gordo’s restless test-pilot wife Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones) becomes one of the first female astronauts, and Karen Baldwin (Shantel VanSanten, who bears a disconcerting resemblance to Julia Roberts) embodies Ed’s stoic wife.

There are also intriguing subplots: one involves a Mexican teenager (Olivia Trujillo) who immigrates to Texas, yearning to be part of NASA, another profiles Ellen Waverly (Jodi Balfour), a closeted lesbian astronaut.

Plus there’s ornery veteran test pilot Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) with her artist husband Wayne (Lenny Jacobson) and determined Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall), the first black female astronaut.

What distinguishes this compelling series is how these complicated, conflicted characters are deftly delineated against a background of ruthless political turmoil, prejudice, sexism and “patriotism.”

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “For All Mankind” is an enigmatic 8. The second season is even better than the first, and season three is already confirmed.

Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.