Sean Penn’s ‘The First’ Never Achieves Liftoff

The clear message is that scientific breakthroughs come at a price, a point McElhone’s character addresses explicitly in a later episode. “When it comes to Mars, we must get used to death,” she says.
“The First” does a credible job of contemplating the costs of space travel, where, to quote an old line, no one can hear you scream. But wading through season one of this stiff but earnest series, it’s possible someone will hear you snore.


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Bonus review: There’s a better streaming series premiering the same day, but Amazon’s “Forever” pretty well thwarts efforts to review it, largely because of the twists and turns that the show takes.
Starring Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as a married couple (introduced in a long silent sequence that, alas, might be as good as the show gets), the provocative series was created by Alan Yang (“Master of None”) and Matt Hubbard (“30 Rock”).
Without giving anything away (which isn’t easy), “Forever” tackles some big issues about life, loss and what happens to a relationship when people discover they want different things. The half-hour show does so in a manner that cleverly pulls the viewer along from episode to episode, even if its answers, while intriguing, aren’t quite equal to the buildup.
    Nevertheless, in its quiet way it’s a more ambitious journey than “The First,” keeping the audience off-balance throughout the eight episodes. That’s worth something, in a series that explores a different but no less mysterious frontier.
    “The First” premieres Sept. 14 on Hulu. “Forever” premieres the same day on Amazon.


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