We have all heard that “Too many cooks spoil the broth!” and so I am amazed that “Away,” a space series of 10 episodes is helmed, episode-wise, by 6 directors and written by seven without damage to the show’s canon that must show a continuity and homogeneity all through.
Full marks, then, to the continuity / script supervising team and the basic creators. However, the major hosannas are deserved by the DOPs as well as the Visual Effects and stunts team, whose work is nothing short of dazzling.
“Away” is absolutely in the emotional “space” where characters are explored while a 5-member team—an American astronaut, Emma (Hilary Swank), who replaces her husband Matt (Josh Charles), who has a medical condition, as the voyage commander, an Indian surgeon, Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki), a botanist named Kwesi (Ato Essandoh), Popov (Mark Ivanir), a Russian who is the most experienced in space among the team, and Lu Wang (Vivian Wu), who is a Chinese chemist.
Every character has a traumatic back-story or ongoing troubled situation. Emma’s husband is not well and her daughter (Talitha Bateman) is a classic adolescent, who also gets involved with Isaac (Adam Irigoyen). Popov has a daughter (and grandchildren) and the former has not forgiven her father for going into space when her mother was dying. Ram has been estranged from his family since his brother died looking after him during an illness. Kwesi has been adopted and brought to Britain after losing his parents. Wang is unhappily married, yet a loving mother to her son (Derrick Su), and has an affair with her admirer Mei (Nadia Hatta), who works with NASA.
At different stages, each character is in turmoil, and there are crises galore in space too, like a critical water shortage, a fire, the possibility of a slow death by dehydration, a very infective illness for Ram, and failing eyesight (a common space occurrence over a long while) for Popov. Emma is also disturbed by her husband’s condition and her daughter’s issues.
The story is about how the international team land on the moon first, and then take off for Mars. So will they land there as the world’s first people on Mars? Will they perish from one of the many dangers that come up? It is a three-year voyage (which seems impractical, especially given the fact that the longest manned space voyage so far — with just one person — has been of just a year and there are five human beings here who need to be nourished and maintained minus sunlight, exercise et al), and so the emotional angles also deepen.
The solutions offered seem simplistic and convenient, and oftener than not coming from Matt, as if the rest of the NASA team do not have the requisite mental acumen. A lot of footage is spent on the American family, and a major downer for Indian viewers is that Ram speaks with an Anglicized rather than indigenous accent when using Hindi! These lines needed to be dubbed by a more thoroughbred Indian voiceover! Happily, there are no Indian clichés that are usually found in American fare and even the guy who believes furiously in a divine power and is ultra-religious is the black, not Ram!
Tactically, there is a gray-cum-dark-cum-unscrupulous-cum-ruthless shade depicted initially in the Russian and the Chinese, but the script soon repairs that and even shows magnanimity in the climax towards the two in the matter of giving them some rare distinctions. And there are overt and subtle messages of peace, of a world without fear and with harmony and so on.
The performances are fantastic, and there is no way we can choose who is best, second-best and so on out of the five, but to me, Mark Ivanir scores that significant bit more in his easy performance, while Hilary Swank is a natural. Tabitha and Josh impress as Emma’s kids and husband, and while Gabrielle Rose is extraordinary as the woman of authority in NASA, the Chinese kid, Derrick Su is adorable.
The series has one main Indian character and a few more in the team alongside an Indian writer, but seems to go a tad too much into emotional “space” that we love rather than concentrating on the planetary one. It’s a decent watch, though, but unlikely to bowl you over. I, for one, would love to revisit some of the individual sequences on ship. But that is not repeat value really.
The extra half-star is for the humongous effort and hard work put in by everyone, especially the technical team, in making “Away” believable despite the inherent impossibilities. And I am really jealous of the space people who can send and receive emails, audios and videos with great ease and accuracy when there are technological hitches on earth even within short distances!
Created by: Created by Andrew Hinderaker, inspired by the Esquire article by Chris Jones
Produced by: Jeff Rafner, Patrick Ward & Chris Jones
Directed by: Edward Zwick, Jeffrey Reiner, Bronwen Hughes, David Boyd, Charlotte Brändström & Jet Wilkinson
Written by: Andrew Hinderaker, Jessica Goldberg, Ellen Fairey, Jason Katims, Janine Nabers, Aditi Brennan Kapil & Chris Jones
Music: Will Bates
Starring: Hilary Swank, Josh Charles, Vivian Wu, Mark Ivanir, Ato Essandoh, Ray Panthaki, Talitha Bateman, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Michael Patrick Thornton, Martin Cummins, Gabrielle Rose, Brian Markinson, Fiona Fu, Nadia Hatta, Alessandro Juliani, Felicia Patti, Veena Sood, Anthony F. Ingram, Adam Irigoyen Diana Bang, John Murphy, Derrick Su & others