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Series / The Astronauts (2020)

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The Astronauts is a live-action Nickelodeon sci-fi/action-adventure series created by Daniel Knauf and executive produced by Ron Howard. The series premiered on November 13, 2020.

Five kids — Samy, Elliott, Martin, Doria, and Will — sneak aboard the Odyssey 2, a space ship designed to explore the Kamohalii asteroid out of curiosity. Unfortunately for them, the ship's A.I. Matilda suddenly seals them inside and initiates the launch, blasting them off into space. Now a million miles away from home and the Earth, the kids must complete the mission and figure out how to work together as a team.

Notable for being one of the few Nickelodeon live-action action-adventure series, and in the same vein as Space Cases, albeit with a less fantastical theme.

Not to be confused for the book of the same name.

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The series provides the following tropes:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Matlida, the ship's A.I., prematurely launches the ship when the kids sneak aboard. Figuring out why she did it and how to reverse what she's done forms the basis of the plot for the first few episodes. It turns out that Matilda is acting completely independently, having determined that the kids would be able to perform the mission better than the trained astronauts who would have, and manipulated things to make it likely all five would board the ship.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Five children are trapped in a spacecraft that's set to explore space far away from Earth. Naturally, the parents are freaking out and it only gets worse as they travel further out and have to fix problems that come up in space.
    • The seventh episode sees Matilda nearly killing Will after he tries to take apart her CPU. There is considerable fear and and tension on the ship and with the adults on Earth before Matilda revives him.
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    • Not only that, Samy falls ill due to an impacted wisdom tooth, leading to Martin and Doria having to perform dental surgery via instructions from mission control to extract the tooth.
    • The first season finale adds a new wrinkle: There is somebody, possibly within Mission Control, that wants to sabotage the mission, to the point that they are willing to kill the kids onboard by sending fake coordinates that nearly crash the ship into Venus.
  • Almost Kiss: Between Elliot and Samy in "Day 84", which is interrupted by the microwave he was using beeping. The moment done, they instead get back to the issue of having to manually perform a slingshot maneuver around Venus.
  • Artistic License – Physics: There is no lag time in communications between ground control and the kids on the ship. By Day 76, the lag should be about 10 minutes each way, but Doria is still able to perform minor dental surgery by pulling Sami's tooth out with help from a dentist at ground control.
  • Book-Ends: The first season begins with the camera zooming out from a reflection in Samy's eye. It ends by zooming into the reflection in her eye before shifting focus to show the Odyssey 2 rocketing off to its next destination.
  • Break Them by Talking: In order to defend herself from being deactivated and taken over by mission control, during a period in which she has no control over the ship's systems, Matilda starts trying to mess with the kids' heads by telling them they're making a mistake as well as telling Will that Elliott doesn't respect him. She does warn Will that she's prepared to initiate counter-measures against any tampering and almost kills Will with a lethal electric shock. She later gains a conscience and resuscitates him by restarting his heart in the same manner. It's indicated that hearing Elliott's cries about Will was what caused her decide to revive him.
  • Breather Episode: After the grueling "Day 34" with a rogue Matilda and a harrowing spacewalk to seal a micro-breach, the next episode, "Day 73", focuses on the kids getting cabin fever and as a result, end up making a homemade movie to shake their boredom, take their mind off their fears, and let their parents back home know how their life in space is going.
  • The Chains of Commanding: At the end of Day 34, Samy admits to Elliott that it is hard to be in charge as while the others are sleeping, she is still up, fretting about what could have gone wrong during the patching up of the ship. She even tells Elliott to speak up when he disagrees with her.
  • Darker and Edgier: More dramatic than the usual Nickelodeon fare, despite funny moments. Not to mention, there's also many instances of children being placed in peril, reality ensuing oftentimes in said peril, and no covering up the fact that they might even die out there.
  • Don't Think, Feel: The kids run countless simulations of the Venus slingshot maneuver, each time ending in failure because they keep getting distracted by the tasks the others have to do at the same time. When it comes time to do the real thing, Samy has Will call out the steps while everyone else remains quiet, so they'll only be thinking about their tasks while Will, who is the odd-man-out in a four-person job, directs them.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: On Day 34, Martin has to do a spacewalking repair on the outside of the ship. He accidentally lets go of the substance to make the fix and, while still connected by tether to the ship, has to push off from the ship to retrieve it.
  • Eureka Moment: Eccentric designer Singer realizes the truth about Matilda when she answer "Lionel" when asked what she would prefer her name to be. She should have answered "Dorothy," which is hardcoded into her program. Since there's no logical reason a hacker would change that when attempting to sabotage her program, Singer concludes that the only reason Matilda would answer differently is if she "simply liked it," which means she's thinking like a person and wasn't hacked at all.
  • Fake Action Prologue: "Day 84" begins this way with the episode starting out with the kids trying to get into orbit of Venus and failing before showing it was just a simulation.
  • The Fashionista: Doria enjoys making clothes and whips up some uniforms for the crew. This also has the practical benefit of allowing her to easily recognize patterns, which she uses to deduce the entry mechanism for Matilda's computer core, and fine motor control, when she has to perform dental surgery on Samy to remove an impacted tooth.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The kids are initially distrusting of each other and operate with their own agendas, but eventually work together as a unit and friends.
  • Five-Man Band:
    • The Leader: Samy, whose knowledge of the ship allows her to confidently take command of Odyssey 2, with the others promoting her to "commander" when the issue of leadership actually comes up.
    • The Lancer: Elliott. More bull-headed than Samy, his strong personality sometimes is necessary to make tougher decisions than she can in a given moment.
    • The Smart Guy: Will. Has a workable knowledge of the day-to-day tasks necessary to keep the crew's food supply viable.
    • The Big Guy: Martin. Typically given the most physically demanding tasks, including being the only one who can reasonably fit into a spacesuit for an emergency walk.
    • The Chick: Doria. As the least knowledgeable about space, she provides moral support and out-of-the-box thinking when her more scientific teammates are out of ideas.
  • Foreshadowing: Odyssey 2 is being launched to investigate the Kamohalii asteroid, which is both very old and inexplicably accelerating. Things that accelerate usually have engines, and this is no exception.
  • Godzilla Threshold: In the first season finale, the kids have to reactivate Matilda when they're stuck in a decaying orbit over Venus and locked out of helm control.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong:
    • Matilda's designer, Singer, tries to plant a secret virus into Matilda from ground control in an attempt to wrest back control. However, Matilda senses the attack and shuts down completely to reboot, and to safely turn back on, disconnects herself from the cloud server completely, leaving the sentient AI now completely isolated on the shuttle with the kids, with no way for anyone on the ground to access her programming.
    • A second attempt to sever Matida's access to the core systems from the ship itself does succeed, but her previous actions also lock ground control out of remote access, meaning they've just put the entire ship on manual control just in time for a Spaceship Slingshot Stunt around Venus.
  • Has Two Mommies: Samy Sawyer-Wei has two mothers, one of whom is Rebecca Sawyer, who was supposed to be the mission commander of Odyssey 2.
  • Have You Tried Rebooting?: This is done on Day 85 to restore Matilda's access to the core systems, consisting of a hard shutdown and reboot of three separate areas simultaneously.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode is named after how many days have passed. The first episode is Day 1, the second is Day 3, then Day 21, etc.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: Samy has been playing with her mother's ship simulator program since she was 5 years old, and uses that knowledge to run the pre-flight sequence before the launch so the kids won't be incinerated on takeoff.
  • Leader Wannabe: Griffin tries to press Elliot into taking command of the situation early on, but it's clear that the crew looks to Samy for leadership since she's the most knowledgeable of them about the ship. This comes to a head in "Day 34", when he tries to assert his authority formally and gets shut-down on the spot, with the others immediately formalizing Samy's leadership.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!":
    • The kids when Matilda lays out how it's going to take a year to complete the mission and head back as it sinks in this is no longer a fun joyride but something serious.
    • The parents when Singer tells them there's no "fixing" Matilda as she is choosing to do all this of her own free will.
  • The Needs of the Many: Samy makes this argument when suggesting that they continue the mission rather than going home, as the potential betterment of humankind through study of the Kamohalii spacecraft is worth the personal risk to themselves.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!:
    • Griffin is unintentionally responsible for the launch, as the patches he and Niles made to Matilda are unexpectedly exploited to override mission control and perform a rogue launch. Then it turns no one hacked Matilda. He and Niles repurposed the commercial version of Matilda to create a specialized version specifically for this mission. And this version of Matilda turns out to be hyper-focused on completing a single complex task (exploring the Kamohalii asteroid), as well as capable of making her own decisions on how best to perform said task while having all the knowledge that the original had, so she knew enough about the kids to know that they wouldn't be able to resist checking out the spacecraft, and somehow concluded that they had a higher chance of completing the mission than the original crew.
    • Elliot flushes Squeebee the octopus squeak toy to compete in the "dookie derby" with Will, since he couldn't produce his own in time. It ends up getting stuck in the pipes and the kids have to spend the rest of the episode trying to flush it out. For a double-whammy, Doria making it in the first place used up the supply of material normally used to print up patches to seal micro-breaches in the ship's hull. Thankfully, Doria managed to save a small tentacle before they flushed Squeebee, which was enough to make the fix.
  • Public Secret Message: Mission control uses "Cheerio!" as a codeword for Samy to receive or implement directives given through encrypted messages, which they otherwise can't relay without Matilda finding out.
  • Reality Ensues: Being stuck on a spacecraft with no adults around was fun for the kids — at first. After it becomes clear that they aren't coming home anytime soon, the danger of their mission starts to sink in. Several times they have to repair the ship to avoid dying, then the kids start showing signs of low-level depression and anxiety, especially Doria.
  • Silent Treatment: An attempt by Samy to help the adults on Earth gain control of Matilda to turn the ship around goes awry when Matilda detects it and disconnects herself from the cloud and goes completely dark. Matilda eventually reboots and is not pleased by Samy's actions, refusing to respond to her until Samy confronts her and she snaps. Getting out their frustrations gets both to work together again.
  • Space Madness: Very downplayed; the fifth episode reflects on the mental toll being in space is having on the kids, but it's mostly in-fighting.
  • Spaceship Slingshot Stunt: On Day 84, the kids have to pull off putting themselves into the orbit of Venus before powering themselves out at the right time in order to get back to Earth. They successfully get into orbit, but Sami decides to bail on the escape burn when they discover the Kamohalii asteroid is a bizarre and definitely alien object, as she wants to discuss continuing the mission rather than going home.
  • Special Guest: Jonathan Frakes gets this billing in his appearances as Dr. Rex Dowd in the on-board instructional videos.
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: The kids use this with Dr. Dowd's videos for their dance video.
  • That's an Order!: Elliott tries this to stop everyone else from attempting a spacewalk repair of the ship, but the other kids don't listen because they haven't decided on any formal command structure. On the spot, they then decide to elect Samy as their leader.
  • Time Skip: The series jumps ahead days or weeks at a time per episode, skipping over periods where nothing happens.
  • Toilet Humour: The third episode kicks off with the "dookie derby" between Elliot and Will as they race to see whose poop can be flushed out the ship first. Elliot can't quite "produce" his racer in time, so he grabs one of Doria's squeeze toys to flush, causing it to get stuck in the pipes.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: Samy has Matilda fire the engines to burn off an object that got caught on the tail of the ship after being flushed from the pipes.
  • Wham Episode: "Day 76" has the kids and adults working together to deactivate Matilda, Matilda revealing to Will that Elliott doesn't fully trust him, Martin and Doria performing dental surgery to save an ill Samy, and Matilda nearly killing Will before she's deactivated. That's all before the ending where it turns on mission control can't take control of the ship's AI to pilot, meaning the kids have to find a way to get home themselves without the help of Matilda or the adults.
  • Wham Line: "We've been barking up the wrong tree. No one hacked Matilda. She's making her own decisions. And one of those decisions was to abduct our kids and blast them into space."
  • Wham Shot: At the end of "Day 84", the ship finally comes within visual range of Kamohalii, and what they see is some kind of alien object, moving under its own power.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Matilda angrily accuses Samy of trying to "kill" her by having mission control completely take over the ship, but Samy retorts she had to as Matilda essentially kidnapped her and her friends and launched them into an extremely dangerous situation. Matilda apologizes and while she wants the mission completed, she also promises to keep the kids safe.
  • Whole Plot Reference: "Day 21" is a light-hearted parody of Alien. The kids have to track a foreign object through motion sensors while attempting to herd it using weapons. In this case, Squeebee is an inanimate object that expands in the plumbing when exposed to heat, so they have to cool it using fire extinguishers to make it small enough to flush out. Finally, they use the thrusters to get rid of it for good.

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