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Lost in Space (A TV Review)

Updated: Apr 9

Lost in Space


SEASON ONE (2018) (Netflix)

Still Lost in Space

Netflix brings back the sci-fi classic in this winning reboot

by Mark Mussari

“Danger, Will Robinson.”

You’ll feel a certain thrill when the Robot speaks those lines in the first episode of Netflix’s new reboot of Lost in Space. It might be your childhood returning – or it might just be that you’ve found yourself in a reinvigorated version of the classic television series. And this time: no camp.

Other attempts have been made to resurrect Lost in Space. In 1998, a perfectly dreadful movie version hit the screens. It was supposed to be the first of three, but response was so negative that the mission was aborted. Even the brilliant Gary Oldman as Dr. Zachary Smith – the part originated by the scene-stealing Jonathan Harris – couldn’t save the audience from a pale, humorless William Hurt as John Robinson and the miscasting of Matt LeBlanc as Major Don West.

In 2003 a television pilot for a new version of the show was produced for the WB network and directed by John Woo. This antiseptic, lifeless reworking of the series was never picked up – and with good reason.

A lot of time and care went into Netflix’s new series and it shows at every turn. The Robinsons are once again lost in space on their way from a smog-choked earth to colonize a brave new world – but changes to the set up, including other settlers, alter the basic premise just enough to keep it interesting.

Interior sets are intricate and impressive – and the natural settings in British Columbia add a certain verisimilitude to “alien” landscapes. Many of the outdoor shots are breathtaking, lending scenes an expansive quality and a depth sometimes lacking in CGI.

It had to be a challenge to cast the new Lost in Space. The original cast is so imbedded in many boomer and generation X minds (thank you, reruns!) that it can be difficult for fans to re-envision the characters. This was the flaw in the 1998 movie: instead of making you forget the original cast, it made you long for them (and some of them made brief cameos in that film).

Lost in Space (l to r): Toby Stephens, Mina Sundwall, Taylor Russell, Max Jenkins, Molly Parker.

As in the original series, there’s continued focus on Will (Maxwell Jenkins) – though one senses there won’t be any family fading into the background this time. The Robot is, at least seemingly, an alien life form in this rendering. Will’s first encounter with his “mechanical friend” offers one of the first episode’s most riveting scenes.

At first, Jenkins’s Will isn’t as daring as Billy Mumy’s indelible reading of the role, but the actor is charming and immediately engaging – and the character has room for growth and change. The camera loves Jenkins and he accomplishes great things with a simple facial expression.

This time the Robinsons are given backstories in flashbacks, which helps to flesh them out a bit more. The relationship between the parents, John (Toby Stephens) and Maureen (Molly Parker), is strained for reasons that slowly become clear. And, unlike June Lockhart who originally played Maureen as a scientist but over time was relegated to a more maternal role, Parker’s Maureen is fiercely independent.

The romantic scenes between Maureen and John Robinson reflect the more passionate nature of the interaction between Lockhart and Guy Williams in the original series’ first few episodes. But this is many decades later, and their marriage is fraught with problems – and even secrets.

The Robinson women are bright, educated, and complex. In addition to Parker, Taylor Russell plays Judy, the part originated by Marta Kristen, and Mina Sundwall plays Penny, originally played by Angela Cartwright.

There’s a tradeoff to some of the casting decisions: by making Penny older, for example, the character can take more action. But the loss of Penny as a child (Cartwright was only 12 when the first series premiered) also means losing some of the innocence and wide-eyed wonder that made the original cast so appealing.

In this iteration, Judy is Maureen’s daughter from a previous marriage and is biracial, also helping to bring the show into the 21st century.

“Taylor Russell brings a depth and a quiet intelligence to Judy,” says Marta Kristen, who originated the role. “I am so proud of her portrayal.”

Russell told Kristen that she watched the classic series to study the character.

“Taylor and I both love the role,” adds Kristen, “and I know there will be a whole new generation of people who will watch the series and want to find out more about Judy and the Robinson family.”

One of the new series’ most daring moves is a gender switch: Dr. Smith is a woman this time, played with finesse by Parker Posey. Expedient and dishonest, this Dr. Smith has motivations that, at least initially, are less clear. Posey clearly enjoys the role and carefully doles out pieces of Smith’s character to keep viewers guessing.

Parker is counterpointed nicely by Ignacio Serricchio as Don West, and their initial scenes set up the infamous tension between the two characters that ran throughout the first series. Serricchio, with his playboy grin, replaces the militaristic irascibility Mark Goddard originally brought to the role with a more carefree approach.

A shift in focus in the last ten minutes of the first episode kicks it into high gear. And look for an important cameo by one of the original cast members – a cameo that also explains another character’s background.

Fans of the original show will hear snippets of the master John Williams’s various themes for the 1960s Lost in Space, and they are worked in subtly and with great style. At the end of each episode, the fanfare-driven theme of the original series’ third season delivers the musical goods in a rousing updated version.

Hopefully the Robinsons will be lost for quite some time.

Mark Mussari is a freelance writer, professional translator, and educator. He is the author of American Life and Television: from I Love Lucy to Mad Men and Danish Modern: Between Art and Design.

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: April 12, 2018.


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