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MCN Review: National Geographic's 'Mars'

Nat Geo has teamed with producers Brian Grazer and Ron Howard to take a unique look at the colonization of Mars in a new series that’s part scripted show and part documentary.

The scripted drama portion of Mars mostly takes place in the year 2033 and follows the efforts of an internationally-based space organization to put humans on the red planet. The pilot episode does a good job of building up the drama surrounding what must be a nearly perfect approach to the crew’s perilous attempt to land on the planet’s surface.

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The series deftly introduces the crew of Daedalus, led by commander Ben Sawyer (Ben Cotton), through testimonies, interviews and flashbacks about the attempt to successfully land on Mars.

The documentary side of Mars takes place in 2016 and features commentary from real-life scientists and experts such as Neil deGrasse Tyson and NASA astronaut Charles Bolden on the science behind space travel to Mars. The segments provide a thorough, research-based account of the potential benefits and risks inherent in successfully travelling millions of miles in space, and add authenticity to the belief that the mission is within the realm of possibility.

Watch a preview of 'Mars.'

The one problem with Mars is that the intertwining of the scripted and documentary elements has the unfortunate adverse effect of slowing down the pace and continuity of the scripted storyline. While some viewers might be fascinated with the facts on how people will survive on Mars — which is explained in full detail — often those factual elements interrupt the more dramatic points of the crew’s mission. Nat Geo too often asks viewers to wade through science class during times where they may just want to get lost in a good action drama.

Ultimately, Mars is a fun and informative ride into space exploration that will take viewers on a mission to a future world — and, potentially, a new television genre.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.