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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The First is an ensemble drama series about the first manned mission to Mars. This drama is largely free of issues that will concern parents, save for language: "f--k," "damn," "s--t," "hell," "ass," "son of a bitch," and "bastards" all make appearances. However, the themes are dark, adult, and subtle; this drama will probably not appeal to all but the most mature of teens. Violence is infrequent, but disturbing when it happens: We see a spacecraft blow up mid-air, and watch family members scream and cry, and then grieve at length. Subplots involve romance between adults. Characters talk about using alcohol or cigarettes to handle emotional distress; one character has liquor, and another smokes a vape pen. A main character has a serious drug addiction. Women and people of color have strong roles with agency, and talk to each other about doing the right, noble thing.
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What's the story?
In a (slightly) futuristic world, the crew of the Providence hopes to be THE FIRST humans on Mars. But when the launch doesn't go as planned, it's up to aerospace magnate Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone) and disgraced commander Tom Hagerty (Sean Penn) to pick up the pieces, figure out what went wrong, and, in the midst of personal conflicts, decide whether the mission can go on.
Is it any good?
Viewers lured by this drama's space exploration angle may be disappointed to find a slow-burning character study instead of a zippy space epic, but that's not intended as an insult. On the contrary, the writing is good, and the acting positively terrific -- Sean Penn still has it, and Natascha McElhone is sublimely easy to watch as steely corporate queen Laz Ingram. Though Hulu's marketing of the show is heavy on the imagery of astronauts in suits and sunrises as seen from space, we spend a lot more time in Hagerty's house, watching him shave and pal around with his dog, and on hangar floors and corporate meeting rooms with Laz, which is where the real drama takes place.
Like every compelling drama, The First picks up in the middle of something big, while secrets simmer in the background. Just what happened between Tom and his wife and daughter that left him living monastically solo? What series of decisions led to Laz okaying the Providence launch, and where will the Mars program go now that the mission's in tatters? Patient viewers who appreciate truly adult drama won't mind waiting for the answers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why space exploration is such a popular topic for drama and fantasy. What about this setting intrigues? Why are filmmakers and TV creators drawn to it? What dramatic possibilities does it hold?
This drama is rated TV-MA for language. Is the language integral to the story? Is it realistic? Is this the way people really talk? Do you think this drama should be watched by mature viewers, or should it be watched by anyone? Why?
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