The classic ’60s iteration of Lost in Space created by Irwin Allen has a rabid cult following. I personally haven’t met any of these fans, but I know for sure that they are out there. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have created the 1998 film adaptation with an all-star cast that included William Hurt, Gary Oldman, and Joey Tribiani — er — I mean, Matt LeBlanc. Like many reboots of that era, the film adaptation was disposable and barely made a dent in cinematic history. With a gigantic budget that seems to put the ’60s TV series and ’98 movie to shame, Netflix’s reimagination of the classic series aims to change the course of Lost In Space while keeping in the spirit of the original. It’s progressive (they have Black daughter and Dr. Smith is a woman!), it’s flashy, the “Danger Will Robinson!” robot looks super-sophisticated, and most of all, the 10-episode series shows that family dysfunction is the same no matter where you go — even in space. But with all the grandeur of this sci-fi extravaganza, it, at times, gives us nothing to grab hold of as it floats aimlessly through the stars.
The reboot is set 30 years in the future and everyone wants to move to space because Earth has become trash. The Robinson family is selected as one of the families to go to space to make a new life for themselves in a better world — but that doesn’t mean their domestic and sibling strife is being left behind. John (Black Sails‘ Toby Stephens) and Maureen (Emmy-nominated House of Cards star Molly Parker) look and act like the perfect intergalactic space couple, but as the series unfolds, we see that not all is good in their marriage. Meanwhile, their kids Judy (Taylor Russell), Penny (Mina Sundwall), and Will (Max Jenkins), although all super-geniuses, still have to deal with the awkward trials and hormonal tribulations of adolescence. Judy, Maureen’s daughter from a previous relationship, is an 18-year-old doctor who tries her best to be the eldest sibling while the pragmatic Penny is clearly snarking and sassing her way through middle child syndrome. Then there’s Will, who is a little sensitive, spastic and on edge 24-7. But to his defense, he is a child that is lost in space — who wouldn’t be paranoid all the live long day?
When the Robinson family and a population of new colonists get thrown off course while on a ship to their new home, they land on a dangerous environment where they encounter problems on top of problems on top of problems. Seriously, the Robinsons cannot catch a break.
While on this unknown planet, they battle the elements and reconnect with some of the other castaways including smooth-talking Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), who seems to be a graduate from the Han Solo Charm School for Aspiring Space Smugglers as well as the enigmatic and blatantly shady Dr. Smith (Parker Posey). Then there is the alien robot who simply goes by “Robot.” Will encounters him in a very dire moment and the two develop a very Spielbergian bond which, in future episodes, proves to be helpful and harmful. As this motley crew of intergalactic castaways navigates through this problematic environment of erratic climates, prehistoric eels, and dwindling resources, they try to figure out a way to get to their original destination.
Showrunner Zack Estrin and series writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless certainly shot for the stars with this ambitious and very cinematic reimagining. The first episode starts off strong by giving us a very focused story on the family rather than giving a vast spectacle of a spaceship crashing and all the crazy ramifications that follow. The pilot thoughtfully establishes the dynamics of the Robinson family as they crash land on an ice planet. It’s an intimate episode as we get to know the family before they go out and explore. We see how headstrong Judy is as she rebels against her parents and gets trapped in an icy situation. Penny wisecracks her way through her insecurities in a time of crisis and as for Will, well, he struggles with his confidence as he tries to figure out his place in the family. We see how Maureen, as much as a mother bear as she is, fails to have a strong connection with her kids while John is an uncertain and distant father figure. Stephens, Parker and the entire cast make for a strong Robinson clan with grounded familial heart and dysfunction that doesn’t get eclipsed by the out-of-this-world backdrop. All of this is great…but it doesn’t make for an exceptional reboot.
It feels like Lost in Space took inspiration from Lost to map out its story and by doing so, it tried its hardest not to be carbon copy of that formula — and it shows. There are plenty of flashbacks to push the narrative forward and, at one point, the family discovers other castaways who aren’t exactly on the same page — which are reminiscent of the Tailies from Lost. Sure, the inspiration is there, but it lacks the intrigue and execution. The pilot is a strong start, but the following episodes tend to become a mish-mash of narrative “stuff” that never sticks. It floats about and occasionally finds its way with plot points to serve the end game, but most of the time the series gives us a whole lot of unexciting details to kill time while we get excited to hear the Robot say “Danger Will Robinson!” There are even times when I asked myself, “Wait, what are they looking for again?”
Not to say that the series had some good moments including the surprisingly heartfelt story involving the Robot and his relationship with Will. Instead of making it a goofy robot that flails about warning Will about danger, it oddly learns to have a soul — it’s kind of like the relationship between the Terminator and John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But it’s Posey’s Dr. Smith that gives this revival a jolt of smirk-worthy satisfaction. The suspicious and untrustworthy character was originally played as a man and played by Jonathan Harris in the ’60s series and by Gary Oldman in the 1998 movie. The gender-flipped role wasn’t essential, but it is very much welcomed. Posey, who is best known for her quick-witted improv chops in Christopher Guest films, has proven that she is more than that with various roles in films — as if we already didn’t know. Throughout the 10 episodes, Posey brings a fresh, nuanced disheveled shadiness to Dr. Smith that changes the dynamic within the Robinson family and therefore shifts the tone to the entire series. Like all ambiguous villains, it’s a delight to see her stir some sh*t up — but it’s not for nothing. There is reason behind her deceit and the mystery behind her backstory proves to be the most provocative, interesting, and, most of all, fun as the series unravels.
Although it floats around aimlessly and takes itself too seriously at times, Lost in Space isn’t a lost cause. As opposed to Lost, it hasn’t started an infinite web of unresolved storylines that have no resolving end in sight. It has a lot of good to work with and characters that have the opportunity to grow and inject more fun into its veins. More than that, they are in space, which is a proverbial playground of planets, universes, and galaxies that can make for a multitude of adventurous stories. By the end of the 10th episode, we come to a cliff-hanger that makes us realize that this is a set up for something even bigger which gives me hope that, after working throughout some of the kinks from its freshman season, the second season will be even bigger and better second season. Those who have never boarded Lost in Space will be satisfied with this foray into this Robinson adventure. It has potential. As for hardcore fans and loyalists of the original, I would say give this iteration a chance. If not for the new take on a classic, then for the surprise cameo.