With everything going on in our country these days, now seems the perfect time for something a little more aspirational, like reliving the story of the Mercury Seven, America’s first astronauts.
But the new Disney+ drama, “The Right Stuff,” doesn’t tell a completely rosy story, as it shares all the warts of the seven men who were racing to become the first in space. And that’s OK, because doing so makes for pretty compelling drama, while still creating the nostalgia for a simpler time I think we all can use right now.
Based on the novel of the same name by Tom Wolfe, “The Right Stuff” begins in the earliest days of the U.S. Space Program as the newly created NASA works to send a man into space in two years, desperately trying to win the space race with the Soviets. Seven men are chosen to begin the intense training regimen, but two of those men rise to the top pretty quickly — Alan Shepard (Jake McDorman), one of the Navy’s all-time best pilots, and John Glenn (Patrick J. Adams), a squeaky clean, but legendary Marine pilot.
As the seven become celebrities and set out on a national tour to generate support for NASA, Glenn becomes the group’s front man, thanks to his natural abilities in front of the camera. Shepard only wants to fly and struggles with the public relations aspects of the job. And it doesn’t help that Shepard is a real playboy and not-so-devoted husband. Shepard is not the only one with marital issues as Gordon Cooper (Colin O’Donoghue) must convince his estranged wife to pretend to be happily married in order to achieve this opportunity, all while being followed by reporters. In contrast, Glenn is completely devoted to his children and his wife, Annie (Nora Zehetner), who struggles with a speech impairment. Concerned about the constant interference in their lives, the seven strike an exclusive deal with Life magazine to present a perfect picture of their lives to the public.
“Stuff” starts out a little slow as it gets some necessary exposition out of the way, but once it delves more into the astronauts’ lives, it picks up the pace nicely. McDorman is down right mesmerizing as Shepard, with his good looks and cocky swagger, and Adams is perfectly cast as Glenn. And the two do an excellent job of selling their rivalry from the series’ opening moments. The entire supporting cast is strong as well, especially Zehetner, who does a great job of keeping Annie from becoming one-dimensional.
Disney+ has had a lot of success with series related to already-established Disney franchises, but “Stuff” gives the streaming service a more traditional drama, and something else solid to watch besides “Hamilton,” while we wait for the second season of “The Mandalorian.” In other words, the series has just the right stuff for Disney+ and its subscribers.
“The Right Stuff” begins streaming Friday, Oct. 9, on Disney+. To subscribe, visit www.disneyplus.com.