This week I’m taking a look at two top new Netflix hits: Away, the site’s No. 1 show starring Hilary Swank as an American astronaut leading an international mission to Mars, and the No. 3 the romantic comedy film Love, Guaranteed, which came in at No. 3. Both take on popular genres on the streaming giant, with Away offering affecting human drama behind the sci-fi trappings and Love a very bland addition to its seemingly endless and interchangeable string of rom-coms.
Away opens with Emma Green (Swank) on the moon at Lunar Base Alpha, just 35 hours before her mission’s second-phase blastoff to Mars. Also on the mission are Indian Ram (Ray Panthaki) and British astronaut Kwesi (Ato Essandoh), who are fully supportive of Emma, while the Chinese member Lu (Vivian Wu) and Russian Misha (Mark Ivanir) are skeptical, hoping she’ll be replaced.
The tensions have arisen partly due to the various astronauts’ conflicting accounts of a near-disaster chemical leak on board their spacecraft that erupted into a fire while stationed on the moon. Misha believes that Emma handled it poorly and is ill-prepared to be their leader, while he and Lu also worry that she will be distracted by her husband’s health problems back on Earth.
Emma is also experiencing guilt over leaving behind her teenage daughter Lexi (Talitha Eliana Bateman) when she embarked on her three-year voyage, setting up plenty of conflict both back home and in space for the program to explore. The series’ other nine first-season episodes interweave space-based dangers with emotional earthbound moments.
Away is the first significant role in ages for two-time Oscar-winner Swank, and for her role as the space boss, she calls on the innate toughness she brought to her role as a boxer in Million Dollar Baby. Her softer side as a mom, saddened by the thought of spending three years away from her teen daughter, and as a wife, concerned by her husband’s serious brain condition and attendant stroke, adds some real depth to the series.
Unfortunately, Away’s plot has a disappointingly slack pace even in the scenes involving the on-board fire and the efforts to extinguish it, leading me to suspect that the series lacks enough tension to be highly entertaining. And early reviews from sci-fi fanatics on IMDB.com reveal widespread disappointment in the logic of some of the interstellar challenges the astronauts face—they say that the series puts too much emphasis on being a soap opera rather than a space opera.
While Away is well acted and has some nice effects, be forewarned it might be lacking in thrills. There’s always the Netflix reboot series of Lost In Space and several of the Star Trek series on the streaming giant if you crave more traditional space-based antics.
Meanwhile, Love, Guaranteed also fails to take flight as a romantic comedy. It follows a struggling female attorney named Susan Whitaker (Rachael Lee Cook) who represents a handsome physical therapist named Nick Evans (Damon Wayans Jr.) as he sues a dating app called Love, Guaranteed because he has failed to find love as the app promised within 1,000 dates. The two team up to sue the site’s founder, a New Agey space cadet named Tamara Taylor (Heather Graham), for $1 million when the site offers him “only” $100,000 as a settlement for his dating expenses, with Susan claiming it barely covers said costs.
What are the odds that the lawyer and client find love together? If they do, will it threaten the success of the lawsuit? Do birds fly and dogs bark?
The attractive lead actors engage in banter that the filmmakers think is much wittier than it actually is. But give its logic a moment’s thought and the whole thing comes crashing down like a house of cards in a hurricane.
I don’t know too many physical therapists who can afford to spend $100,000 on meal dates in the course of a year, especially not when we learn that he gives discounts and freebies to senior citizens. Nick adds that if he wins the lawsuit, he’ll donate the money for a new children’s wing at his therapy clinic.
Meanwhile, Susan appears to have no other clients yet pays an assistant and an accountant to keep track of her nonexistent billing.
Love, Guaranteed is more annoyingly boring than aggressively incompetent, and I suppose it’s fine as background noise while folding socks. But given Netflix’s other options–including classic rom-coms like My Best Friend’s Wedding, Sleepless in Seattle and The Money Pit, as well as its own far superior Always Be My Maybe and Love Wedding Repeat–I highly recommend revisiting one of those gems instead.