Although my tastes have evolved over the years, the original ‘Lost in Space‘ was the TV series was that made me a sci-fi fan. The show has always seemed ripe for a reboot/reimagining, but when the 1998 movie crashed at the box office, it seemed like the adventures of the Robinson family were indeed lost forever. Until now.
Unlike some recent reboots of other franchises, the news that Netflix was bringing ‘Lost in Space’ back sparked my interest for a few days… and then was quickly forgotten. I didn’t give this idea a whole lot of hope, given the 1998 movie’s failure, nor did I think those involved with the series would get it right. When trailers for the new update came out, my hopes sunk even lower. The trailers made the series look mediocre at best, removing any belief I had that ‘Lost in Space’ might be something special.
But life is full of surprises and, as it turns out, Netflix’s ‘Lost in Space’ isn’t just an impressive relaunch that captures Irwin Allen’s original intent, it might just be the most mainstream and family-friendly show Netflix has presented to date. Instead of making the mistake so many new TV series do – trying to offer something that’s never been done before – ‘Lost in Space’ is a throwback to TV of the past. It’s a family show with family values and a real spirit of adventure. It actually doesn’t compare favorably at all to its often corny and even more often campy parent. If anything, the new ‘Lost in Space’ is more like ‘Bonanza’ – the story of a family that cares deeply about one another and sticks together through thick and thin. It’s also more like ‘Star Trek’ than any recent incarnation of that franchise. While ‘Star Trek’ now seems to be about starship battle sequences, in the new ‘Lost in Space’, science and exploration are stressed more than fight scenes or alien monsters. No, this isn’t the ‘Lost in Space’ anyone expected, and that’s even more reason why it feels so fresh and fun.
The show maintains a lot of the big keystrokes of the original series, although the story is much different. We still have a family named Robinson, and all the characters you remember are in place. John Robinson (Toby Stephens, best known to audiences for his starring role in ‘Black Sails‘) has a military background and has been separated from his family due to his service. Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker from ‘Deadwood‘) has been estranged from her husband for a while and has basically spent much of her time raising her three children on her own. The oldest daughter, Dr. Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell), is from Maureen’s first marriage and is not John’s biological child. Penny (Mina Sundwall) is the spunkiest of the Robinson children, always ready with a quip or sarcastic comment about their latest predicament. The youngest Robinson, Will (Maxwell Jenkins), feels like a bit of an outcast… and for good reason; he wasn’t able to pass the test required to make him part of the crew, but Maureen pulled some strings and fudged some paperwork to make sure that, as Judy aptly puts it in one early episodes, “the Robinsons stick together.”
Unlike the original series, where the Robinson family was sent off to Alpha Centauri on their own, this time around they represent just one family aboard multiple Jupiter spacecraft that, as the first episode gets underway, are all docked together aboard a large spaceport called the Resolute. However, an attack on the Resolute causes the ships to take damage, break away from the spaceport, and crash onto the planet below – the Robinsons’ Jupiter 2 spaceship included.
The family isn’t on the planet for long when Will – who gets separated from the family for reasons I won’t reveal here – comes across a crashed ship of alien origin and its single robotic passenger. That’s right, the popular Robot this time around isn’t a creation of Earth scientists and part of the Jupiter crew, but rather an alien life form (albeit mechanical) that Will must learn to communicate with. The Robot seems to be telepathic to some degree and quickly bonds with the youngest Robinson. But it’s also harboring a dark secret that has to do with the attack on the Resolute.
As for the treacherous Dr. Smith, this iteration of ‘Lost in Space’ provides us with one much different from the original series. In fact, the new Dr. Smith isn’t Dr. Smith at all, but rather June Harris (Parker Posey), a stowaway aboard the Resolute who first steals her sister’s identity back on Earth and then, during the attack, steals the identity of the real Dr. Smith (played by an actor ‘Lost in Space’ fans will be familiar with). She escapes the Resolute not on the Jupiter 2, but instead on a different ship piloted by Don West (Ignacio Serricchio).
Of all the various changes to the characters we remember from the original series, those to Don West are perhaps the most welcome. Instead of trying to match him closely with the original character, the creators have gone for more of a Han Solo type of vibe, not only making him a hotshot pilot and expert mechanic, but even a smuggler. (West has been trying to smuggle booze to Alpha Centauri.) Since he’s the most down-to-earth of the characters on the new show, he’s the one adult viewers will probably relate to the most, even though sometimes the scripts make him a little too brash and rough around the edges.
Another different spin this time around is that the Robinsons are not alone – at least in these first ten episodes – when it comes to other humans. A number of the other Jupiter ships have crashed around them, and the thrust of this first season has the various different crews working together to figure out how they’re going to get off the planet (which Maureen Robinson learns is rapidly dying due to a wild orbit that takes it near a black hole) and back to the Resolute.
What I love the most about the new episodes – other than the great character development and a cast that has some solid chemistry – is that we finally have a science fiction series airing again where exploration and science are the main focus of the show. In almost every episode, the Robinsons find themselves in some sort of trouble and use brain power to figure their way out of it. How often do we see that on TV these days? Had this show run on a network… yes, even a cable network… there would probably be an insistence on more action, more fisticuffs, and more alien threats. Yet even the monsters the Robinsons run across in this batch of ten episodes aren’t monsters at all; they’re the planet’s indigenous animals and they have no evil agenda. They’re just doing what comes naturally to them, even though it puts our heroes in danger.
As big of a surprise as I found these episodes to be, an even bigger surprise was the huge backlash ‘Lost in Space’ has gotten from the majority of critics. Most of the complaints, however, were exactly the reasons I love this ‘Lost in Space’: no camp, no monsters, less big action sequences, etc. Some of these critics (like one from a major TV magazine) proved their cluelessness by complaining that the episodes were landlocked, despite the fact that the original TV series featured almost exactly the same scenario (for budgetary reasons back then). Most of these reviewers also seemed to have forgotten that Irwin Allen’s original intent was always “Swiss Family Robinson in Space” and not the camp that came later – which was only a result of viewers responding strongly to storylines that featured Will, the Robot, and Dr. Smith in comedic situations.
Unless you’re prepared to nitpick every little aspect of each episode or complain about the lack of interstellar travel, it’s hard not to fall in love with the new ‘Lost in Space’, which is geared for enjoyment by the whole family. It’s a wholesome series, but not dumbed down for the sake of the young ones. It’s the kind of show that entertains, yet might have the secondary result of getting youngsters who view it more interested in science. That’s something more pieces of entertainment should strive to achieve.