I have to admit to being far too young to have watched the original Lost in Space when it was on the air and even more, I only watched it a tiny amount in reruns. Since I watched it, I’ve heard mixed reactions to the original but I was neutral when they re-imagined the show for Netflix. I thought it might be interesting and an update might hold promise. Now, that I’ve watched the first few episodes, I find myself enjoying far more than I thought and wondering if I might need to revisit the original.
The new show is a revamped, completely updated look with the same family but with a much different mission, a different background, a re-visualized robot and a change-up on Dr. Smith. When a celestial object dubbed the “Christmas Star” lands on Earth and threatens humanity, Earth launches the Resolute, an interstellar spacecraft which will carry selected families to colonize a new world in the Alpha Centauri region. The Robinson’s are selected for the mission but before they can reach their destination, they are attacked by an alien robot. Families are forced to evacuate the mothership, including the Robinson’s. The Robinson’s are led by father John Robinson (Toby Stephens), a former U.S. Navy SEAL and mother Maureen Robinson (Molly Parker), a fearless and brilliant aerospace engineer who is also a mission commander. The family includes Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell), the 18-year-old eldest child, mission doctor, Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall), the second-oldest Robinson child and Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins), the 11-year-old son and youngest child.
After the family leaves the ship, they and the other families crash land on a nearby habitable planet. The Robinson’s Jupiter craft, a short range ship, sinks underwater in a freezing environment. In order to survive, the family must work together but in this story, the family is at odds and working together creates as many difficulties as it prevents.
As they work on getting the ship out of the water, danger ensues, leaving Judy trapped under ice and her parents frantically trying to save her. Will, her younger brother, comes up with an answer but is separated from his father. While in the forest, Will saves an alien robot (Brian Steele) and in befriending it, changes its original purpose. The ship and Judy are saved. Along the way the Robinson’s meet up with another lost colonist, Dr.Smith (Parker Posey), who is nothing like she appears. She’s stolen the identity of the doctor and isn’t meant to be with the colony at all. The Robinson’s get their ship moved to a safe zone and meet up with the rest of the colonists but more challenges face all of them, as they attempt to reach out to the colony ship and figure out a way to get back to their original destination.
One of the challenges any remake is going to have is the comparison to the original. If you aren’t familiar with the older show, you can judge the show on its own merits. It has plenty of those but I do want to address some of the differences. One of the elements that fans of the show told me was that the original first season was very serious and Dr. Smith was the antagonist, a saboteur that was attempting to prevent the Robinson’s from going into space. He also ended up being the focus and the drive for the older series as it turned lighter and more comic in nature. The new series embraces more of the seriousness of the situation. There are moments of lightness but the situation is dangerous and the show does not downplay that element. While Dr. Smith is a critical element of the show, the focus of the show appears balanced between the characters, both the parents, Judy, Penny and Will. Even the robot is integral to the series. We have yet to see if the next season will be as comedic as the original second season was but I doubt it. This show appears to be blazing its own trail and that is a very good thing.
The plot focuses on the Robinson’s but each family member gets equal time to shine. Along the way, the Robinson’s encounter Dr. Smith but they also reunite with others from the ship including a mechanic, Don West (Ignacio Serricchio). While Don is cynical and appears shallow, only wanting to take care of himself, one of the charms is that he actually ends up caring about the Robinson’s, especially Judy and despite his demeanor, he does end up helping the survivors far more often than he really means to. His character brings in that outsider point of view that helps the rest of us connect who don’t have perfect families.
The robot is especially well created. Not only the design, which can switch from threatening to a more human, peaceful form but in its interactions with Will and Dr. Smith. As Dr. Smith examines it and attempts to find a way to bend it to her will, so that she can use it as protection, we see the contrast in Will’s behavior. He treats the creature like a friend because for him it is one. As he interacts with it, it learns from him, both good and bad but it becomes more human in its behaviors. It is only when he worries about its behavior and whether it threatens the colonists that conflict arises. His innocence childlike love is what saves the robot and leads to it helping the Robinson’s. It is the age old dilemma in caring for others versus survival. Which takes precedence or which makes sense depends on the person but I know I prefer helping people and I love that aspect of the relationship between the robot and Will. The dynamic between the actor and an inanimate object is phenomenal and you won’t finish the show feeling like this is just some CGI effect.
There are some elements that aren’t as well done. For a start, much of the problems the family encounters are because of Will, either because of a mistake he makes or because he is too trusting. As a character, he leads with his heart and while the writers use it to connect events in the season, there are times when this predilection towards trouble gets tired and overused.
The other problem that bothered me was the convenience of the science. Some of it is brilliantly written but there are many times that it is used to get the family out of one scrape or another. Those times, it feels like the science is cobbled together. The Robinson’s always escape, whether it is a easily patched suit or a robot that can burn through frozen ice. The solutions come easier than they should. That said, as the show progressed the problems got more difficult and addressing them more of a struggle. The show is not as comedic as the original and I appreciate that the characters struggle with realistic situations. The ending was plausible and the dynamics between characters completely realistic.
Overall, I like the show. It had solid world building, interesting characters and potential to delve into some moral quandaries and themes all set in a beautifully built set with great special effects. It is all Will’s fault, and I hope that they move away from that particular element. But I’m looking forward to the next season, to see what they do with Dr. Smith, the Robinson’s and whether they will remain lost in space.
Rating: 4 out of 5 space alien robots