Sean Penn

Sean Penn stars in a new series about a trip to Mars. “The First” is streaming on Hulu.

For a series about a trip to Mars, “The First” sure takes its sweet time. Streaming today on Hulu, this British-American co-production sure looks like a million, make that a billion, bucks.

Unfortunately, the pilot episode to this epic effort is spectacularly dull. Almost laughably so.

Sean Penn stars as Tom Hagerty, mission commander, and Natascha McElhone portrays Laz Ingram, the chilly genius who owns the private company behind the mission.

Penn is neither the director nor the producer nor the writer of “The First.” So he can’t be blamed for the fact that it often unfolds like a fashion industry homage to Sean Penn. We see Sean Penn jogging (shirtless in long pants!) through New Orleans, of all places. We watch Sean Penn feeding his dog. Sean Penn engages in amateur plumbing. Sean Penn looks pensive. Sean Penn looks angry. Sean Penn looks at the sky. Sean Penn looks “ripped.” Sean Penn shaves. He shaves a lot.

What neither Penn nor any of the characters do much of is engage in actual dialogue. The kind that moves the plot forward and explores character. And engages audiences. There are turgid “Godspeed” speeches between astronauts, numerous silent hugs and a few outbursts. The most sustained conversation takes place between Hagerty and a little girl as he teaches her a new way to eat a sandwich.

Tech titan Ingram lives in a modern glass house that resembles a museum. She lights a fire in the middle of summer in New Orleans. Because she can! Her most interesting exchange is with her driverless car.

Houston, we’ve got a problem: “The First” mission to Mars is an epic bore.

  • It is impossible to describe the new comedy series “Forever” without giving too much away. This series, streaming today on Amazon Prime, stars “Saturday Night Live” veterans Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen as June and Oscar, a comfortably married couple whose lives have settled a tad too deeply into familiar grooves.

The first episode opens with an extended flashback to their meeting, courtship, engagement and marriage, set to Miles Davis’ hauntingly beautiful 1954 recording of Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind.” Only, instead of using the song to introduce mood and then move on, we hear the entire piece as the repetitive flashbacks continue, crashing well beyond poignancy to the point of absurdity and tedium.

Armisen simply does too good a job of playing Oscar as an annoying bore. Rudolph, adept at the blank stare that says so much, wordlessly expresses longing, impatience and desire. Of the five episodes I have screened, the second is the best. And it takes place without Oscar at all. Perhaps I’ve already revealed too much.

  • Streaming today on Netflix: season two of “American Vandal” and season five of “Bojack Horseman.” It also launches the talk show “Norm Macdonald Has a Show” and streams the political thriller “The Angel,” based on the life of Ashraf Marwan, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s son-in-law, who became a special assistant to President Anwar Sadat while working as a secret asset for Israeli intelligence during the early 1970s.
  • “Sunday’s Best: Celebrating 40 Years of CBS Sunday Morning” (7 p.m.) offers a prime-time look at a beloved TV institution.

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