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Monday, April 16, 2018

Lost in Space (2018) – Season One Review

When Irwin Allen created the original Lost in Space back in 1965 America was in the middle of the Space Race with the Russians and man had yet to step foot on the moon, now in the year 2018 we’ve been to the moon and back numerous times and Elon Musk is claiming we will have Mars colonies by 2040, so it’s only fitting that we’d get another attempt at bringing the Space Family Robinsons to a new generation.

This is not the first attempt at bringing back the Robinson Family as we had a big budget theatrical attempt in 1998 starring William Hurt and Gary Oldman, which flopped faster than a collapsing star, then in 2004 a relaunch of the series was given a shot but was never picked up by the Networks, and thus it seemed like the Robinson Family were doomed to be lost and forgotten. Enter Netflix, with a ton of money to throw around, and we finally have a Lost in Space that more than lives up to the memory of the original.

There is much from this reboot/relaunch of the series that people familiar with the show will recognize; we have the Robinson Family consisting of John Robinson (Toby Stephens), his wife Maureen (Molly Parker), eldest daughter Judy (Taylor Russell), middle child Penny (Mina Sundwall) and finally we have the ever getting into trouble Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) whose questionable decisions skills have frustrated many a viewer, but though the names may seem familiar the characters for this incarnation have not only been updated for modern audiences they have also been shifted and tweaked to make them a more believable family unit.

Though they still apparently carpool together.

In the original series John was the family patriarch and the mission commander, though his wife was also a scientist she was mostly reduced to gardening and doing the laundry while her son ran off into whatever danger they faced that week, but in this Netflix series it is Maureen who is the mission commander and John is her estranged husband whose basically been an absentee dad because while the kids were growing up he was off fighting to save the Free World as a badass Marine. Judy is no longer simply blonde arm candy for Major Don West, as she was back in the 60s, now she’s an eighteen year old surgeon who we see suffer through PTSD and crisis of confidence in her ability to do her job while trapped on an alien planet.  Then there is her sister Penny who once was just the annoying little girl who constantly wandered off when not playing with her space monkey but now in this updated version though she still tends to skip off and explore on her own she’s actually a pretty smart cookie and gets to help the family out of the occasional jam. Will on the other hand is very similar to his 1965 counterpart, the dynamic he has with Dr. Smith and The Robot is quite in keeping with the original show, but at least he isn’t the super know-it-all that tended to veer towards "insufferable brat"  territory back in the day.

"I'm not as annoying as young Anakin Skywalker, trust me."

The basic premise of this reboot is that after a celestial object, called the Christmas Star, impacts the Earth causing the planet to be trapped under a perpetual dust cloud, mankind’s survival hinges on colony ships to Alpha Centauri where a new world can be started by carefully selected families. The Robinson Family are just one of many such families aboard the Jupiter Mission's colonial spacecraft called “Resolute” but they find their trip interrupted when the Resolute is attacked by an unknown enemy and the families are forced to escape in their landing crafts. The Robinson Family plummet to a strange and hostile world aboard the familiar Jupiter 2, while Don West (Ignacio Serricchio) and Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) are aboard their own Jupiter 4.

"Don't forget where we parked."

Having the Robinson Family in one ship while Don West and Dr. Smith in another is only one of many changes from the original dynamic, add to the fact that several other families make it planet side which widens the cast of characters and allows for more interesting plot threads and conflict, but one of the most telling differences would have to be The Robot. In the original series he was part of the Jupiter 2 crew but in this incarnation he is a sentient alien robot and its friendship with Will Robinson that is more in the vein of what we saw in the movie The Iron Giant than what it was in the original Lost in Space.  In fact the Robot is a killing machine with amnesia that befriends a young boy, but when threatened reverts to killing machine mode, so this show could almost have been called The Iron Giant is Lost in Space.  But basically this is the classic tale of a boy and his dog.

If his faithful dog was also a walking instrument of death.

There is a lot to love with this take on Lost in Space; the visual effects are stunning, the female characters pretty much dominate the show yet don’t diminish their male counterparts, and overall the family friendly action adventures the Robinson Family have to deal with each and every episode are for the most part quite fun, that all said there is still a rather large element that casts an unpleasant shadow over this new Lost in Space, one that stops this reboot from being truly excellent, and that would be the Dr. Smith character. Now when I heard that the character of Dr. Smith was being changed into a woman I thought this was a great idea, as it would allow them to easily divert comparison to the original Dr. Smith created by actor Jonathon Harris, but what we got was a crazed supervillain that comes across as more annoying than actually threatening. I should be clear that none of this is due to actress Parker Posey because I don’t think anybody could have made this version work, this Dr. Smith is so unbelievable that every moment she is on screen I’m pulled out of the show.

"I'm not bad, I'm just written that way."

The writers tried to throw in some backstory to flesh out her character and provide her some motivations for her villainy, but none of it can explain her Sherlockian ability to manipulate people and events to such an extent that she'd have to be either psychic or have reality warping superpowers for any of this to make sense. And to make matters worse she often jeopardizes plans our heroes have to get everyone off this dangerous planet when being on this geological time bomb is as big a danger to her as anyone else. Is she supposed to be a cold calculating sociopath with a skewed since of self-preservation or is she just a complete idiot? This show clearly hasn’t decided that yet and this could make further seasons harder for the show's writers to make believable for as it stands episode one of season two should open with Maureen Robinson shoving Dr. Smith out an airlock.

Overall I have great hopes for coming seasons, if they can solve the Dr. Smith problem that is, and with the amount of money spent on this show its clear Netflix is fully invested in this being a hit. The campy Father Knows Best aspect of the original series has been cast aside in favor of fully developed characters that have moments of great heroism as well as terrible failures, and that makes for a good drama. There are enough nods to the original show to make fans happy but it’s the differences that I think will be key to this show’s continuing success, and certainly worth giving it a shot if fun science fiction adventures are your bag.

Stray Thoughts:

• The moment The Robot first says, “Danger Will Robinson” gave me serious goosebumps.
• I love that they’ve made Don West more of Han Solo like scoundrel, though the eighteen year age difference between him and Judy will make any planned romance a little creepy.
• Maureen and John being trapped together leads to some great dramatic moments but going forward could be in danger of becoming a running gag.
• They set up an electronic perimeter fence that can apparently be turned off by Dr. Smith without any type of alarm or notification alert that it is down.
• Like the original series the “science” in this science fiction show is a little dodgy. In one particular scene Judy is trapped beneath the ice and as they try and dig her free it starts to rain and floods their progress, and then that water freezes. How is that possible? If it’s cold enough to freeze standing water instantly how is it raining? Shouldn’t it be snowing?


Will the Robinson Family survive these challenges and make it to season two?

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