LOST IN SPACE
Starring: Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Mina Sundwall, Taylor Russell, Maxwell Jenkins, Parker Posey, Ignacio Serricchio
Director: Neil Marshall, Tim Southam, Deborah Chow, Stephen Surjik, Alice Troughton
Writers: Kari Drake, Katherine Collins, Zach Estrin, Vivian Lee, Ed McCardie, Daniel McLellan
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS and is based only on the first five episodes.
What’s it about?
“Danger, Will Robinson!” Memorable words from a tv era long ago. Lost in Space, airing on Netflix starting Friday, April 13th, is a reboot of, you guessed it, Lost in Space which originally aired in 1965. Lasting for three seasons, it was a cheesy, cheap-looking, family-centered show, arguably made for kids. Jump ahead more than 50 years to this big-budget remake. You’ve got a visually nice and expensive-looking, family-centered show, minus the cheesiness. And for what it is, it works perfectly.
Lost in Space is about the Robinson family, who on their way to colonizing another world, have a disastrous encounter resulting in their spaceship crashing on a nearby planet. Strangers in a strange land, they have to overcome numerous obstacles. And just like in the original, family members John, Maureen, Penny, Judy and Will (plus a few other characters), need to use their wits, their training, and their will to survive to overcome the various challenges that are thrown at them each episode.
The original provided the blueprint for the show. That hasn’t stopped the writers from making some changes. For example, gone is the perfect family unit. Maureen and John are separated, bringing with it inevitable tension, which affects their relationship with the kids. It adds another dimension to the show. It isn’t just about surviving in a new world, but also about the struggles of a dysfunctional family. But, no need to worry! Though there are some moments, both tense and friendly between Maureen and John, this isn’t War of the Roses. Robot has changed as well (more on that below), as did Dr. Smith, who is now played by a woman, Parker Posey.
Who’s in it?
Toby Stephens (Black Sails) plays the role of John, the Robinson patriarch. He’s a typical military man, too often away on missions, which is the reason he and his wife separated. He’s fairly one-dimensional, wearing a hard and stern look far too often and unable to experience emotional depth. Ignacio Serricchio takes over the role of Don West, portraying him like a less charismatic Han Solo (which really isn’t a knock against him, because you know, hum, there’s only one Han Solo). Though there’s nothing wrong with their acting, neither one of them stand out, both stuck in stereotypical roles.
Molly Parker (Deadwood) plays the role of Maureen, the Robinson matriarch. Driven to get off Earth and begin anew, she’s the dedicated, loving, compassionate, and protective mother. Parker exhibits those traits but isn’t given meaningful material to tap into her talent. Opposite her is Parker Posey as Dr. Smith, originally played by Jonathan Harris. She’s a con artist, who for some reason, believes she’s better off on her own. With better writing, she could have a far more dominant role, and Posey would deliver in her performance.
The children, Mina Sundwall as Penny, Taylor Russell as Judy and Maxwell Jenkins as Will perform well. A special shout out to Maxwell who has to spend numerous scenes with non-speaking Robot. It couldn’t have been easy. Lucky for him, and for us, Robot is actually an interesting and intriguing character. At times CGI, at times in a costume, Robot’s silence is unnerving. A sworn protector of Will, his true purpose or intent is ambiguous. Sporting some kind of synthetic, jagged body, he looks intimidating. The light of his face alternates between red and blue depending on his mood, a great visual cue for younger viewers. It’s the mystery behind his origins and motivations that makes him so compelling. Perhaps the writers could give other characters the same kind of treatment?
What’s the verdict?
Rebooting Lost in Space makes absolute sense given the storytelling opportunities it presents, with countless adventures awaiting our colonists. The crash leaves the Robinsons facing the uncertain environment of a new planet. But they’re a dysfunctional family, dealing with marital, blended family and sibling rivalry issues. And so far, there isn’t enough emotional depth to them to be heavily invested in their various relationships. They also tend to behave predictably and act too calmly for people lost in space. They were chosen for this mission because of their intelligence, problem-solving abilities, and knowledge. So, why do they make questionable decisions? It’s likely contrived to move the plot, but it’s frustrating. Fortunately, via flashbacks, we are given some insight into the motivations for some of the characters.
The production value stands out. The spaceship, the suits, the equipment, they all look sturdy and well designed. They look good too. The CGI-enhanced landscape scenes are beautiful to watch and blend well into the real sets. The space scenes are bright and look exceptional. And Robot looks impressive, a serious upgrade from his predecessor. Some of the actors are known, and the above comments about their performances could simply be attributable to the writing. So is it worth watching? The answer, you betcha it is.
Verdict: Watch it! There’s no denying that there are better sci-fi shows. Altered Carbon, Philip K, Dick’s Electric Dreams, Black Mirror, Star Trek Discovery are all examples. However, most of them, if not all, target specific audiences, mostly adults. Even Discovery deals with mature and darker topics, probably alienating younger viewers. Lost in Space, a show about a family working together to survive, arguably targets a much broader audience. It’s not too violent, nor too passive, not too cute, nor too dark, not too complex, nor too simplistic, not too dramatic, nor too comedic. It’s the Goldilocks Principle. Don’t aim for the extremes, but rather the middle. This might explain some of the issues discussed above. But like any show in its freshman year, there are always growing pains that eventually work themselves out.
The original Lost in Space was fun, goofy and far from perfect. Though the producers have made remarkable strides in turning this cheesy and campy show in something more serious and mature, it shares the same DNA. The new Robinsons aren’t perfect. The kids are flawed. But then, so was Wesley Crusher. They’re a family thrown in a frightening situation, trying to make the best of it to survive. And using those lenses, this show is great. It’s an enjoyable family show that members of all ages can enjoy. So grab your popcorn and join the Robinsons on their journey!