One of the easiest recommendations to make is Apple TV+'s For All Mankind, a crowd-pleasing drama that appeals to both science-fiction nerds and history buffs alike. The story of the infamous space race between the Soviets and the Americans, but told as though the first boots on the Moon were red, has churned out three fantastic seasons of action and interpersonal drama, with another season coming.
But after you recommend For All Mankind to a friend, they love it, and then they come back asking, "What else you got?" what should you say? We have some thoughts. Whether you're looking for all the sci-fi space drama you can get, more character-driven period pieces, or another alternate history series, you'll find something all fans of For All Mankind will enjoy below. And if none of these work for you, just watch The Bob Newhart Show on a loop, okay?
Alternate history? Pretty cool. Real history? Sometimes cooler. This 1998 12-part HBO miniseries was a huge limited series before limited series became so popular, telling the story of the Apollo missions to the Moon in a docudrama format. Known for its historical accuracy, think of it as a prequel to For All Mankind as it details the American efforts of the space program, except the Americans beat the Russians to the Moon. Produced by Ron Howard and Tom Hanks, the all-star cast includes Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Mark Harmon, Tony Goldwyn, Tim Daly, Steve Zahn, Gary Cole, Sally Field, John Slattery, and many more.
If it's more space operas you want, it's more space operas you'll get — and from the man behind For All Mankind, no less. Ronald D. Moore's sci-fi epic Battlestar Galactica, an adaptation of the 1976 series, is the gold standard for the genre. The series, which started as a two-episode miniseries in 2003 and then ran for four seasons between 2004 and 2009, tells the story of the surviving members of a human civilization that was decimated by an android race known as Cylons. The paranoia and drama set in as the survivors, who live aboard the spaceship Battlestar Galactica as they try to stay alive long enough to find a new home, deal with who among them is human and who are Cylons disguised as humans. It dives into politics and religion, is full of layered characters and interpersonal drama, and knows exactly when and how to dial up the action and suspense. Oh, and that old Portlandia sketch about how addictive it is once you start watching? It's funny because it's true.
Based on premise alone, The Expanse feels sort of like it could be a sequel to For All Mankind. The series, which ran on Syfy for three seasons before moving to Prime Video for three more (it ended its six-season run in 2021), takes place far into the future when humans have colonized the entire solar system (if Margo Madison could see us now!). There's a cold war between Earth and Mars that's about to turn hot (if you know what I mean), lots of political intrigue, game-changing technology from ancient aliens, and yes, a noir-ish detective story to boot. The story is, like the new world humans inhabit here, sprawling, and the series been rewarded with numerous genre awards.
Like For All Mankind, Sam Shaw's World War II-set drama Manhattan tells the story of a world-altering time in history by way of intimate character drama. Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Manhattan follows the lives of the Manhattan Project scientists and their families living there — which according to the United States government is nowhere, actually — as they engineer the first atomic bomb. It's not an alt-history, but it is heavily fictionalized and easily shifts between an exploration of the psychological and emotional toll of the work, small town and family drama, and wartime thriller. The cast is remarkably full of heavy-hitters, led by John Benjamin Hickey, and brimming with now familiar faces before they hit big, including a pre-Maisel Rachel Brosnahan, a pre-Stranger Things David Harbour, and a pre-Evil Katja Herbers. It's an embarrassment of riches, really.
In the same vein as Manhattan, AMC's excellent Halt and Catch Fire also examines a revolutionary time in history by building a character-driven story within it. This time, we're in the 1980s through 1995 and we're talking computers. Specifically, it's the race to revolutionize the personal computer as told through four sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, sometimes colleagues, sometimes competition, and in several cases exes. The series, created by Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers, only got better with each season (there were four in total), as the relationships grew more complicated and the technology race more cutthroat. The show always seemed to be overshadowed by other prestige dramas at the time, but the gorgeous writing and the compelling performances from the four main cast members — Lee Pace, Mackenzie Davis, Scoot McNairy, and Kerry Bishé — are right up there with the best of them. Do I want to admit that a show about computers made me weep like a baby? No. But here we are.
This 2019 documentary film is a must-watch for anyone remotely interested in the inner workings of NASA and/or space exploration, which, if you're into For All Mankind, that means you. The doc has no narration or interviews, and instead is the full story of the Apollo 11 mission told through pieced together archival footage from the time, including film footage from NASA, news reels, and personal family photos. Todd Douglas Miller's film is instantly engrossing, and even though you already know that astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins will make it to the Moon and back in one piece, to watch it all play out as it did in the summer of 1969 is a complete thrill-ride.
Listen, I will recommend The Americans any chance I get, but this time around I promise the reason is more than just "it's one of the best shows of the decade" (which it is). For All Mankind does such a great job harnessing Cold War tensions for dramatic effect in both its large-scale storylines and its most intimate ones, but The Americans pulls off this feat with aplomb, as well. The FX series ran for six seasons and told the story of Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jennings, who have what looks like the perfect, all-American family in 1980s Virginia — except for the fact that they're actually Russian spies and they are very, very good at their job. The show is at once a thrilling spy series and a nuanced look at marriage, both of which are complicated by Philip and Elizabeth's conflicting ideas about duty and love for one's country and one's family. Plus, guys, wait until you see the wigs.
No one else does realistic space exploration drama like For All Mankind, but Away tries? This soapy space drama led by Hilary Swank about the first team headed for Mars got a bad rap when it came out but if you are craving heartfelt humans-try-to-colonize-Mars content, you'll like this. It certainly has a Main Character Problem, in that the series focuses on Commander Emma Green (Swank) while she's on her three-year mission to Mars and her family back on Earth as they cope without her, and Green is the least interesting character of the bunch. But the good news is that the rest of her crewmates — Chinese chemist Lu Wang (Vivian Wu), British-Ghanian botanist Kwesi Weisberg-Abban (Ato Essandoh), Russian engineer Misha Popov (Mark Ivanir), and Indian medical officer/second-in-command Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki) — are each given time in the spotlight (we get lots of Lost-like flashbacks) and their moving, many times heart-breaking, stories are alone well worth the watch.
If you're simply in the mood for more alternate history TV, you'll want to try The Man in the High Castle. Based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, the four-season series takes place in an alternate universe in which the Allies lost World War II and the Nazis rule the world alongside the Empire of Japan. The series starts in 1962 with the discovery of newsreels from our universe, in which the Nazis were defeated. The series is a little uneven, but is visually quite arresting and does well when it leans into more sci-fi elements — which makes sense since it was adapted by Frank Spotnitz, he of X-Files fame.