For All Mankind - Photo Apple TV+
For All Mankind – Photo Apple TV+

Wanna binge on a terrific sci-fi/spy series? An alternate historical take on the international space race, “For All Mankind” has just concluded its fourth season – with season five already on the drawing boards.

Created by Ronald D. Moore, Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert, it poses the provocative question: What if the Soviet Union had won the race to the moon?

The first season revolves around US astronauts Ed Baldwin (Joel Kinnaman) and Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman) who were ordered not to land on the moon, allowing a cosmonaut to get there first, infuriating then-President Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile at NASA in Houston, rocket engineer Wernher von Braun (Colm Feore) mentors Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt), the first woman at Mission Control, while Gordo’s wife Tracy Stevens (Sarah Jones) becomes the first female astronaut.

Planting a crucial sub-plot, Mexican teenager Aleida (Olivia Trujillo) emigrates to Texas, yearning to join NASA, while Astronaut Ellen Waverly (Jodi Balfour) is a closeted lesbian. Plus, there’s ornery veteran test pilot Molly Cobb (Sonya Walger) and determined Danielle Poole (Krys Marshall), the first black female astronaut.

Skipping ahead 40 years to season 4, set in now-colonized Happy Valley on Mars, the plot pivots around Helios entrepreneur Dev Ayesa’s (Edi Gathegi) determination to mine a metal-rich asteroid – which requires expanding the labor force beyond pilots and engineers, involving workers’ rights, unionization and sabotage. 

Recalling their mother/daughter-like relationship, now-grown Aleida (Coral Pena) is reunited with Margo, who fled to the USSR after saving her Russian colleague Sergei (Piotr Adamczyk) from the KGB.

And Ed Baldwin’s adoptive daughter Kelly (Cynthy Wu) arrives on Mars with her young son Alex (Ezrah Lin), leading a Helios search for signs of life in the craters.

What distinguishes this compelling series is how these complicated, conflicted, ‘fictionalized’ characters are deftly delineated against a thriller background of ruthless political turmoil, sexism, prejudice and ‘patriotism.’

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “For All Mankind” is an escapist 8, streaming on Apple TV+.

What Happens Later - Photo Bleecker Street
What Happens Later – Photo Bleecker Street

After an eight-year hiatus, Fairfield, Connecticut, actress Meg Ryan returns to the big screen, co-writing, directing, producing and starring in the disappointing romantic comedy “What Happens Later.”

Based on Stephen Dietz’s 2008 play “Shooting Star,” the story revolves around former lovers who are stranded together at a small regional airport during a snowstorm. 

Toting a rain-stick and dressed in bohemian garb, Willa (Ryan) is a free spirit, “a wellness practitioner in the healing arts,” while Bill (David Duchovny) is a buttoned-up businessman, suffering from “anticipatory anxiety.” They hooked up 25 years ago when they were students at the University of Wisconsin. 

After initially trying to avoid one another, they realize they’re inevitably going to have to talk to each other. 

Jumpstarting the catch-up conversation, Willa suggests they trade wallets, examining the contents that are inevitably indicative of their present lives. As a result, they rehash the most excruciating aspects of their former relationship, which include Willa’s ‘infidelity’ and the miscarriage of their baby.

Relying on magical realism, the disembodied voice on the airport loudspeaker becomes an integral part of the otherwise narrative two-hander, focusing on aging and regret, which begs the question: Will they or won’t they wind up together?

Few romantic comedies focus on older people revisiting the loves they’ve left behind. That’s what intrigued Meg Ryan, who notes: “You slowly learn that love is easy, while relationships are hard.”

Problem is: neither of these stereotypical characters (Willa or Bill) is compelling enough to care about.

Ryan dedicates the film to her dear friend/writer Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “When Harry Met Sally…”), evoking her frequent theme of fate. “The idea of destiny was one of the great comforts of Nora’s movies,” Ryan shared with Variety. “This idea that two people are destined for each other.”  

Unfortunately, the inherent cuteness wears thin, lacking the essential charm that epitomized Ephron’s work.

FYI: Filming took place over 21 days at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, and the Northwest Arkansas National Airport.

On the Granger Gauge, “What Happens Later” is a flaky 4, streaming on Prime Video, Apple TV+ and Vudu.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.