Leave This Earth and Follow National Geographic to Mars

It seems a hell of a risk, what the newly-branded, newly majority-FOX owned National Geographic is doing in television. A pivot towards premiere TV is a welcome one for the millions of viewers who have decentralized their entertainment from major networks to more diverse and groundbreaking series on smaller ones like AMC, FX, and BBC, but the question remains for NatGeo whether a dramatic series will attract those who generally associate the brand with nature and animals, or if it’ll read like Microsoft stepping out of its lane with a Windows Phone. Well, as one of 37 total owners of a Windows phone I’m familiar with terrible shit that should’ve never been made. Fortunately for NatGeo, Mars doesn’t fall into that category. Mars is actually an amazingly unique drama that blends documentary format within a tense sci-fi drama, striking a balance to serve both the intellectually curious and the easily bored.

The miniseries sets up like a sci-fi film, as if you’re watching The Martian as they plan to settle humans on the Red Planet for the first time. It’s worth mentioning The Martian in specific, as Andy Weir joins the cast of writers, engineers, and scientists featured on the documentary part of the series. Mars toggles back and forth between interviews of present-day leaders of science and engineering, with the fictional space-exploration drama that follows an awesomely diverse cast on their mission to be the first humans on Mars in the year 2033.

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If the pilot is any indication, the writing and acting on NatGeo’s big dive into premiere TV is impressive, evocative of any mainstream space film with a deep budget and blockbuster opening weekend. Along with the documentary-style interjections, you find yourself being tricked into feeding your curiously on the subject matter like watching The Big Short minus the comedy. The comedy exists, though completely unintentional, through the suspension of disbelief on the necessity and urgency of establishing our species on Mars. The long-term goal of SpaceX – the real-life company spending millions of dollars to turn sci-fi into reality – is to develop the technology necessary to establish a self-sustaining city on Mars.

“We want to, need to, go to Mars.” says Jennifer Trosper, a Project Systems Engineer from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Nah, we don’t Jen, existentially or philosophically, but you make jets and that shit is cool so I’ma ride with you regardless. Andy Weir adds, “We need to go to Mars because it protects us from extinction. There’s all sorts of things that could happen on Earth that kill all the humans on the planet. But once humans are on two different planets the odds of extinction drop to nearly zero,” spoken with the confidence and optimism a true American pre-2016 Election. The only one who kept a hunned was Elon Musk, CEO and Lead Designer of SpaceX: “Getting to Mars will be risky, dangerous, uncomfortable, but it’ll be the greatest adventure ever.”

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Elon Musk went the Amelia Earhart route and was like, ay, the adventure itself is worth it, assumingly ‘cause he knows we definitely gonna fuck up the next planet that has the displeasure of accommodating us. No need to front, planet Earth has to hate us. If we ever discover Earth’s wildlife does indeed have full self-awareness and understanding, and they ever have the chance to communicate in the future, we can guess what to expect:

Eagle: We knew y’all wasn’t shit all along.

Frog: All along, word to Gaia, y’all a plague. The whole animal kingdom meets to discuss killing y’all asses every year. Been trying to eradicate you for centuries, gon’ ‘head to Mars. Ay Mars – Mars! They’re your problem now.

Bear: Resilient ass bastards.

Mosquito: WE BEEN DOIN OUR PART. WHERE THE FUCK THE REST OF Y’ALL BEEN AT? OH. OH SO NOW Y’ALL SEE A PROBLEM.

Bear: Here the mosquitoes go again…

Mosquito: WE 1% OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM PUTTING IN 40% OF THE WORK. GARY IN THE FIELD SPREADIN’ VIRUSES RIGHT NOW. OH. OH BUT Y’ALL HATE GARY.
(Universal law according to Omar Holmon [and his interpretation of NatGeo] anyone named Gary must be hated)

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The drama segments of Mars fares well, and suggests a character-driven dynamic in a few characters in its reality TV-style one-on-one camera interviews, and is somewhat integrated into the regular plot as well, as is the case with astronaut Hana Seung and her twin sister back in the control room on Earth. As with any space mission there needs to be a locker room speech describing the severity of the situation they’re voluntary placing themselves in so we know they’re true heroes:

[quote_simple]“Over the next 7 months your bodies are gonna be exposed to nearly 200 times the dose of a normal year’s worth of radiation exposure on Earth. Calcium will leech from your bones, which will lose nearly 10% of their mass before you even get to Mars… Some of us, if not all of us, will almost certainly die on this mission. Might be in takeoff, might be in landing, might be in the new world itself.”[/quote_simple]

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It’s cliché for a reason, and those speeches will have you standing behind this diverse group of astronauts, rooting for their success, believing this is an exploration of necessity instead of pride, adventure, or hubris. And learn a whole lot of passive science facts along the way.

“SpaceX’s primary mission is to absolutely make life interplanetary,” we hear. “It’s just an engineering problem like any other.” Whether enough people will watch premiere television on National Geographic to compensate for its costs – well, like travel to Mars, we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, this six-episode miniseries will keep its new viewers wholly enthralled in both real and fictional space-science drama. Mars airs on Mondays at 9PM on National Geographic. Watch the Remote: NatGeo is still trying to take over.

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  • Jordan Calhoun is a writer in New York City. His forthcoming debut book "Piccolo Is Black" is a celebration of the common adaptations we made while non-diverse pop culture helped us form identities. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice, B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Japanese, and an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. He might solve a mystery, or rewrite history. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @JordanMCalhoun

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