Network: National Geographic Channel
Airs: Mondays 9:00 p.m Eastern/Pacific
Starring: Clementine Poidatz, Alberto Ammann, Cosima Shaw, Ben Cotton
Reviewer: Kaitlyn Carter
FA Scorecard: C
In Mars, National Geographic takes a unique look at our red neighbor, blending science, science fiction, and the difficulties surrounding colonizing the planet. Half documentary, featuring scientists and big thinkers such as Ellen Stofan, Elon Musk, Andy Weir, Michio Kaku, and many more, and half drama depicting the continuing adventures of the first humans to settle on the red planet. While the challenges facing the human race (both here on Earth and on Mars) are discussed by the great minds of the day, the fictional crew, scientists, politicians, businessmen, and their families take us on a journey exploring these challenges in a detailed, and very much human, way.
Season two pilots us several years after the conclusion of season one. The scientist/explorer crew of the ship Deadalus have mostly acclimated to their life on Mars and have established a colony—Olympus Town—as they study potential life in microbe form. But the scene is far from perfect, and the harsh climate of the red planet is unrelenting. Despite having created an underground recreational space, known as the park, featuring many of earth’s plants and the space to walk, jog, and mingle, some of the crew still struggle with homesickness and isolation. Most notably, the colony’s physician Amelie, has already decided to return to earth on the next available space craft, thwarting her romantic relationship with Javier, a technician. The couple attribute’s their survival on this planet to their relationship. In one respect, we can speculate that if we were to send a spacecraft to Mars, humans without ties to family and friends would prove ideal, but illogical. We crave relationship, community, and our strength in numbers is an enduring testimony of the human race, on this planet and beyond.
Primary conflict comes to Olympus Town in the form of another settlement—Lukrum Industries, a for profit corporation seeking natural energy. Not only are the scientists unaccustomed to sharing the planet, but the battle between science and preservation and industry and profit begins. Like any other society, coexistence requires compromise, leading the scientists to donate resources to Lukrum’s exploits, but only after they keep the corporation from destroying the survey site for potential lifeforms. Sound familiar? Sound like problems from our own planet? Scientists can wax poetically about braving the new frontier as humans seek to establish themselves on a new planet, escaping overpopulation and climate change on our own, but ultimately, the challenges remain the same. The human race cannot escape by relocation, we still must work together, settle differences, and handle our destinies.
While Mars presents these challenges clearly, the transition from concept to execution is sometimes a little rocky. The visuals of Mars and its colonies are stunning, reminiscent of such works as The Martian, Lost in Space, and Interstellar, and its cast memorable. However, the premise of the show demands that the plot be driven by the challenge concepts and speculation of scientists. The documentary portions are professionally rendered, as expected from National Geographic’s acclaimed team, but the viewer is then presented with the same information in fictional form. Dialogue can feel forced in places and characters are sometimes left entirely to stereotypes. Lukrum’s commander is a ruthless businessman only interested in profit. Olympus Town’s scientists’ only purpose on Mars is planet conservation. However, with five episodes remaining in the season, there is still plenty of time for the humans of Mars to encounter new challenges and develop.