Original Content podcast: Netflix’s ‘Away’ deftly balances space exploration and human drama

“Away,” a new drama on Netflix, tells the story of the first manned expedition to Mars — Emma Green (played by Hilary Swank) leads an international team of astronauts on the three-year mission, while her husband Matt (Josh Charles) is part of the support team back on Earth.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show starts a bit slowly, and its space sequences (particularly an early space walk) aren’t quite as thrilling as we’d hoped.

But “Away” excels at creating compelling human drama — there’s believable tension on the spaceship and in mission control, and pain and guilt on both sides as the astronauts are separated from their loved ones for the long journey to-and-from Mars.

Anthony admitted that before watching, he worried that the show might be a bit too weepy and melodramatic. Instead, he was impressed by the way it made all the storylines feel natural and important, no matter how high or low the stakes. And we also appreciated how the astronauts’ backstories are filled in via flashbacks — the third episode, focused on Chinese astronaut Lu Wang (Vivian Lu), was an early highlight.

In addition to reviewing “Away,” we also caught up on what we’ve been up to since the last regular episode two weeks ago, and we discussed a new Disney+ co-watching feature called GroupWatch.

You can listen to our review in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also follow us on Twitter or send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

If you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro/catch-up
5:55 Disney+ discussion
9:19 “Away” review
41:41 “Away” spoiler discussion

#away, #entertainment, #media, #netflix, #original-content-podcast, #podcasts

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Netflix’s Away splendidly brings a humans-to-Mars mission to life

One evening in early November 2017, I met Andrew Hinderaker at a Houston restaurant named Nobi. Located just down the road from Johnson Space Center, Nobi offers a fantastic combination of Vietnamese food and a rich, rotating selection of draft beer. It’s a classic Houston joint, a fusion of cultures that is the better for it. As such, the restaurant serves as a popular watering hole for the space set.

Hinderaker and a friend of mine named Chris Jones were starting to write on a television show about a realistic human mission to Mars. “From the beginning, Chris and I have believed that this show should be neither naive nor pessimistic,” Hinderaker explained to me. “We believe that there is something aspirational about space exploration, even if the mechanisms that enable it are often bureaucratic.”

I loved the idea. Then, as now, I covered spaceflight, particularly the efforts of NASA, other space agencies, and private companies to expand humanity beyond low-Earth orbit. I had thought a lot about the politics and the technology that might one day enable a small band of humans to travel from Earth to Mars, land on the red planet for a while, and travel back. So Hinderaker and I talked through these issues.

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#away, #gaming-culture, #netflix

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Mission to Mars: Hilary Swank leads an elite team in trailer for Away

Hillary Swank stars as an elite astronaut preparing for a crewed mission to Mars in the new Netflix sci-fi drama series Away.

An elite international team of astronauts must leave family and friends behind for a three-year crewed mission to Mars in Away, a new science fiction drama from Netflix, starring Hilary Swank. Created by Andrew Hinderaker (Penny Dreadful), the 10-episode series was inspired by a 2014 Esquire article by Chris Jones about astronaut Scott Kelly’s year-long sojourn aboard the International Space Station with a Russian cosmonaut—the longest space mission in American history.

Per the official synopsis:

Away is a thrilling, emotional drama on an epic scale that celebrates the incredible advancements humans can achieve and the personal sacrifices they must make along the way. As American astronaut Emma Green (Hilary Swank, I Am Mother, Boys Don’t Cry) prepares to lead an international crew on the first mission to Mars, she must reconcile her decision to leave behind her husband (Josh Charles, The Good Wife) and teenage daughter (Talitha Bateman, Countdown) when they need her the most. As the crew’s journey into space intensifies, their personal dynamics and the effects of being away from their loved ones back on Earth become increasingly complex. ​Away shows that sometimes to reach for the stars, we must leave home behind.

The trailer opens with Emma’s NASA engineer husband Matt playing the opening bars of Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” on a piano, as she presents their daughter Alexis with a gift: a necklace with three stones, representing Earth, the Moon, and Mars. “And the string is me making my way back to you. So just remember, the further away I get, I’m actually getting closer to being back to you.”

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#away, #entertainment, #gaming-culture, #mars, #netflix, #science-fiction-television, #space-travel, #streaming-television

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The way to win is to lose the most money the fastest

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This week was a bit feisty, but that’s only because Danny Crichton and Natasha Mascarenhas and I were all in pretty good spirits. It would have been hard to not be, given how much good stuff there was to chew over.

We kicked off with two funding rounds from companies that had received a headwind from COVID-19:

Those two rounds, however, represented just one side of the COVID coin. There were also companies busy riding a COVID-tailwind to the tune of new funds:

But we had room for one more story. So, we talked a bit about Robinhood, its business model, and the recent suicide of one of its users. It’s an awful moment for the family of the human we lost, but also a good moment for Robinhood to batten the hatches a bit on how its service works.

How far the company will go, however, in limiting access to certain financial tooling, will be interesting to see. The company generates lots of revenue from its order-flow business, and options are a key part of those incomes. Robinhood is therefore balancing the need to protect its users, and make money from their actions. How they thread this needle will be quite interesting.

All that we had a lot of fun. Thanks for tuning in, and follow the show on Twitter!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

#away, #donotpay, #equity-podcast, #hopin, #podcasts, #robinhood, #tc, #venture-capital

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Away, the high-flying travel brand, just furloughed half its employees and laid off 10%

Pretty much everyone is getting socked by the Covid-19 shutdown. Among the latest to say so in a public way is Away, the trendy, five-year-old, New York-based travel brand that has raised roughly $180 million from investors over the years, including a $100 million round last year that pegged the company’s valuation at $1.4 billion — nearly three times where it was valued a year earlier.

With travel down nearly 100 percent as the coronavirus makes its way across the U.S. and world, the company has seen sales of its product fall off a cliff, say company founders Steph Korey and Jen Rubio in a new Medium post. Specifically, they disclosed today, sales of their luggage, bags, and interior organizers have fallen by more than 90 percent over the past few weeks.

The company, which began as a direct-to-consumer brand, first took steps to reduce its burn rate by shuttering its now ten retail stores, while paying its retail teams “during what we hoped would be short-term closures.”

Unsurprisingly, given that human capital is typically a company’s biggest cost center, that strategy didn’t go far enough, so the company is having to furlough “about half” of its team and it’s laying off another 10%, it says.

“This was a devastating decision and one we considered only as a last resort,” say Korey and Rubio in their post. “The pride we once had in the creation of so many opportunities for people is now fear, frustration, and concern for a large number of people who didn’t deserve this outcome. Many of these are people we personally hired, and many more are friends.”

The founders are also suspending their own salaries, they add, and they say senior leadership at the company has agreed to reduced salaries.

Away is doing this exactly the right way, by the way. Rubio and Korey say those laid off will receive a minimum of eight weeks of severance and will see their healthcare coverage through the end of June.

The company says it has also waived the vesting cliff on equity and extended the exercise period of stock options so affected employees don’t have to make decisions surrounding their equity while they’re frantically figuring out next steps for themselves.

They also note that owing to government assistance, its furloughed employees — many of whom work in customer support — should continue to receive 100% of their wages and benefits until they can resume work full time.

Away was described by some former employees as having a toxic culture in The Verge late last year, owing in part to CEO Korey’s management style. Soon after, Korey apologized and stepped aside, but weeks later she announced through the New York Times that, on second thought, she wasn’t going to give up her role at the company, a position she currently shares with Stuart Haselden, who agreed to join the company from Lululemon Athletica when Korey first stepped away.

Whether the two continue to share this role is another question and one that presumably depends on how long the current downturn lasts.

In the meantime, Away is smart to do everything in its power for employees whom it can no longer pay — and to get ahead of employee leaks about the layoffs by posting the news itself to Medium.

It’s not the first company to do so, of course. Last week, as one example, the CEO of the personalized stationery startup Minted, Mariam Naficy, also posted on Medium her letter to employees about layoffs at the company and precisely what former staffers could expect in the way of severance. You can see many others adopting the same playbook as the situation wears on.

They should. In both cases, the founders came across as savvy and compassionate on the whole. Their handling of a bad situation also stands in stark contrast to how some other startups have handled layoffs — and how they will be remembered for it when all is said and done.

#away, #ecommerce, #jen-rubio, #steph-korey, #tc

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