There is literally no reason you should watch ‘The Right Stuff’

Sunday, October 11, 2020 - 7:15pm

NOSELL

National Geographic

Have you ever wanted to explore the minds of people you don’t normally see on TV? To challenge what you know about our country’s history, and to see one of the most significant moments in humankind from a whole new perspective?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, do not watch the new Disney+ anthology series “The Right Stuff.” It won’t give you any of the above.

Based on Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book of the same name and the 1983 movie adaption, “The Right Stuff” is a historical drama about the United State’s first team of astronauts, known as the Mercury Seven. As these hard-working average Joes prepare to change history, they become instant American celebrities and must deal with the scrutiny that the newfound fame brings upon their families. 

The main conflict is between John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams, “Suits”) and Alan Shepard (Jake McDormand, “Watchmen”). Both men are members of the Mercury Seven, and out of their mutual desire to become the first American to travel into space, they form a competitive rivalry. While Glenn is the perfect family man with charm and charisma, Shepard is the rogue bad boy who hooks up with “chicks” and then leaves them to fulfill his American duty. It’s a conflict that feels just as played out and tired as a 2020 show about the Space Race should.

To the show’s credit, none of it feels sloppy or unsure of itself. It knows who its target audience is, and it gives them everything they want: cool cars, pretty women and unbridled patriotism. Every scene tries so desperately to amaze the audience that even reading the amount of people on a signup sheet is met with an over-dramatic score. 

Essentially, if you asked every white dad in America what their favorite movie moments were, and then forced a bot to write a screenplay based on those moments, you’d have the groundwork. 

The most surprising aspect of “The Right Stuff” is its ability to pass the Bechdel test. Halfway into episode two, Annie Glenn (Nora Zehetner) and Trudy Cooper (Eloise Mumford, “Fifty Shades”) discuss the hardships of marrying an astronaut and their personal goals. It’s an honest attempt to finally give the women some agency. Only, that’s exactly how it feels. After over an hour of white men mansplaining bravery, this “girl power” moment is comically disingenuous. It isn’t inherently problematic or ill-spirited. It’s just poor writing.

Certainly, stories like this are not worthless or insignificant. Their monumental roles in shaping the history of the country are undeniable, and the impact they made on people is immeasurable. However, these are the exact stories we have been told over and over again without any new perspective. In the modern era, another show that celebrates white male American history without a single reservation isn’t just irrelevant — it’s blissfully ignorant. 

As one of the first adult-oriented shows on Disney+, 2020’s “The Right Stuff” is a hugely generic and unnecessary adaptation. As we enter the new decade, let’s leave “stuff” like this behind.

Contributor Ben Servetah can be reached at bserve@umich.edu.

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