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From The Mastermind Behind Netflix’ HOUSE OF CARDS!! Hercules Loves Hulu’s New Astronaut Drama THE FIRST!!

I am – Hercules!!

“The First,” Hulu’s mostly terrific new series about the first manned mission to Mars, does not get to Mars during its first season. The first season is just about what happened before we get to the Red Planet.*

(*I am reminded that the producers of “Star Trek Enterprise” kicked around the (abandoned) idea that season one of the Trek prequel would END with Capt. Archer taking the NX-01 into outer space for the first time.)

The series, not to be confused with Ryan Gosling’s fast-approaching big-screen astronaut movie “First Man,” is set in the middle of the current century, and is the brainchild of Beau Willimon, who also masterminded Netflix’s excellent American version of “House of Cards.”

Sean Penn does a great job playing a no-nonsense astronaut who, in our future, brought a lot more moon rocks back to Earth -- and was once to command the first Mars launch before complications intervened.

Natascha McElhone, who was also in the George Clooney space movie “Solaris” 16 years ago, plays an Elon Musk-y character who teams with NASA for the project. The fabulous Jeannie Berlin (HBO’s “The Night Of”) plays a Bernie-esque U.S. president who has to be sold and re-sold on the project. The fabulous LisaGay Hamilton (“The Practice,” “House of Cards”) plays a seasoned astronaut thrust into an unexpected role. The fabulous Keiko Agena (Lane Kim on “Gilmore Girls,” Viola Goto on “Better Call Saul”) plays a mission engineer. The fabulous Hannah Ware (the troubled daughter on “Boss”) plays an aspiring astronaut who may be too soft to make the hard decisions. The fabulous Melissa George (“Mulholland Drive,” “Alias,” “In Treatment,” “The Slap”) appears in flashbacks as the Penn character’s dead wife.

It’s a scientist-smart bunch of characters; when they disagree it can be hard to pick a side, which so often makes for the most compelling kinds of drama and certainly does so here. “The First” characters also makes one wish competing streaming service CBS All Access would hire Willimon to mastermind one of its new Star Trek series.

I liked least the fifth and sixth episodes, which explain in pokier-than-necessary flashbacks the (ultimately very predictable) reason Penn was denied his mission to Mars. I suspect many, however, will like them far better than I.

Just the same, it was easy to devour all eight hours, and I very much look forward to season two, which I happily assume will spend most of its time beyond our stratosphere.

Forbes says:

... a mastery piece of science-fiction. … If anything out of prestige television’s new offerings manages to top this one, then strap in because we’re going to be in for one of the best television seasons in decades. …

The New York Post says:

... With its lush cinematography, an apropos musical score and solid acting all around, “The First” embarks on a journey that will keep viewers interested as the intergalactic mission unfolds and several layers are added to the main characters. …

Variety says:

... For now, centering The First around a family story that hits painful but often-predictable beats and that siphons away what is, elsewhere, a friskily passionate geekiness, is a choice that keeps the worthy show from soaring. …

The Hollywood Reporter says:

... the series builds well after its stop-and-start beginning. It reminds you that before House of Cards went off the rails with soap opera high jinks and Kevin Spacey hamminess, it was a promising show about the personal cost of power. Think of The First similarly, rather than as Mars Trek, and you could be intrigued. …

11:59 p.m. Thursday. Hulu.

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