It’s been quite some time since I had a level of anticipation for a television or movie project as high as I had for Netflix’ reboot of the iconic Lost In Space science fiction series, which ran from 1965 to 1968 on CBS. I grew up watching reruns, and along with Star Trek, Space:1999, UFO, and the somewhat obscure Canadian series The Star Lost, Lost In Space filled my head with the wonders of space and science fiction.

The original series brought us the Robinson family: parents John and Maureen, older daughter Judy, younger daughter Penny, and precocious youngest son Will, along with their pilot Major Don West, their stowaway Dr. Zachary Smith, and the Robot. All these characters are reprised in the reboot, but the campiness (which grew as the series progressed) and 60s values of the original have been replaced whole-cloth with present-day views.

Hold that thought.

I’ve watched four of the 10 episodes that comprise Season 1 so far, and it seemed an apt time for a first review. This includes moderate spoilers, since it’s impossible to offer a full opinion without them. I’ve marked where they start below.

The first episode opens with the family playing a game of cards, sitting in their space suits around a table in their spacecraft, the Jupiter 2. They seem bored, and resigned to letting the ship’s computer run everything, but bad things start to happen from the get-go. Several collisions, about which we learn more later in the episode and in subsequent episodes, force the ship to crash on a snowy peak of an unknown planet. The family grabs a few supplies and flees the ship, which promptly floods and sinks into a half-frozen lake. The family’s training and ingenuity are tested as they face this seemingly hopeless plight, and the opening episode moves along at a breathless pace.

Obviously, they survive, because it wouldn’t be of much interest to kill off the cast of an episodic reboot of a legendary show in the first 30 minutes. Along the way, and across episodes, we see updated aspects of many of the original show’s signature bits. Their ship’s disc shape is mostly retained, as is the circular nature of its interior. There is a Chariot, a rather cool one that would be fun to own in real life as an off-road vehicle. There is a Robot, a scheming Doctor Smith, a brash Don West, and many other cues for fans of the original series.

We learn, via flashback, that there were many “Jupiters” (the Robinsons’ ship retains the name Jupiter 2), each with a family of colonists on board, departing for Alpha Centauri from a large space station/interstellar ship. We learn, also via flashback, some more about each of the characters, about the program that’s sending the colony ships out, about the reasons for that program, and about what caused the Robinsons to end up “lost in space.”

Before I get into spoilers… The show itself is well-paced. The actors do reasonably well with the material they are provided (the characters are eye-rolligly formulaic), the visuals are what we’ve come to expect from 2018 graphics technology, and the writers put a number of subplots in place to give the show more depth than the original had. The show’s first episodes are clunky and over-eager, but the show finds a bit of a rhythm and pace in later episodes. Ditto for the characters, whose initial presentation seems mostly about setting up subplots and story arcs.

HERE COME THE SPOILERS

The reboot of Lost In Space appears to have been crafted to keep the perpetually angry social justice scolds at bay. John Robinson, instead of being a professor and classic father figure, is a Marine estranged from his wife and apart from his family. Maureen, instead of being the “better half” of a loving couple, is a “strong woman” toughie, presuming to be in charge, expecting to be obeyed, aloof from her husband (who she was seeking to divorce), smarter than everyone, who can do everything, who hates guns, and, at least initially, has little use for John. Judy, formerly a sort of fifth wheel in the family, is now a mixed-race super-smart overachiever (Maureen’s daughter from a previous marriage), a doctor at age eighteen, and is so know-it-all that she directly ignores her father’s instructions from the get-go. Penny is, at this point, my favorite character, still a bratty middle sister, but invested with actual personality.

The biggest disappointment for me is Will. In the original series, he was a “boy.” He was precociously smart, had the fearlessness of youth, and kept getting himself into trouble (as boys are supposed to). Here? He failed the tests that would have gained him entry into the colony program, so his mom bailed him out by making a deal with a hacker who changed his records, and while he figures out something that saves the day in the first episode, he spends a lot of time sniveling in self-doubt. That’s not a proper boy, it’s what has been done to boys by a society that can’t stand them.

I fully expected and wanted an update from the vanilla one-dimensionality that the original series characters had, but what I got instead was a lack of originality in characterization, as if deference to the flavor of today was more important than creating genuinely interesting characters. Each family member’s depiction is cookie-cutter.

Things do get interesting when we get to the Robot, which in this incarnation is not a product of Earth technology. Will, after being separated from his father in Episode 1, crosses paths with the Robot, which is originally in two pieces after having survived an alien spaceship crash. Big revelation made small – Will Robinson is the first human to encounter evidence of an alien civilization (or at least he thinks he is). Will and the Robot bond, as we should expect from the original series. The origin and back-story (shared in flashbacks) of the Robot introduce an interesting element into the narrative.

Things get even more interesting when we get to Dr. Smith, who is now a woman and played by Parker Posey. In the original series, Dr. Smith was a saboteur and a stowaway, but his dark nature was very quickly softened up, and he became a bumbling fool, selfish and making trouble, but more of a cartoonish joke than the sinister character we met in early episodes. Not so Posey’s Dr. Smith. I won’t spoil any further here, but suffice to say her story arc starts dark and gets darker, and Posey’s acting skills serve the show well.

We also see several deviations from the premise of the original series, where the Robinsons are alone in their lost-ness, in that other colonists and other Jupiter family ships survived the incident that led to the Robinson’s crash. Dr. Smith and Don West are two such, and by Episode 4 we meet a number of others.

The show’s pacing, through the first four episodes at least, is brisk and interesting enough. The PC infestation is grating, but it seems the cost of doing business nowadays. The episodes have a contrived, “always in the nick of time” feel to them, as if the writers felt that they had to try extra hard in crafting their action narratives. Still, they are making some attempts at character development across episodes, with Judy’s brio having been tamped by an early brush with death (although subtlety is apparently not in the writers’ toolbox), Will’s sniveling fear being alleviated by his new buddy the Robot (I can’t help but flash back to Terminator II, where a young John Connor was bonding with the second incarnation of Arnold’ T-800), and the parents realizing that they need each other more than they thought. I could do without the by-the-book husband-wife conflict, the “superwoman” nature of Mom Robinson, and the obvious plan to slowly build a reconciliation, but the double intrigues surrounding the Robot and Dr. Smith and affable performances by the youngest actors are tantalizing enough to keep me invested.

END OF SPOILERS

After four episodes, I give Lost In Space (2018) 6 out 10. On an uptick.

UPDATE: After finishing the 10 episode first season, I’m happy to report the show got better. Lets call it 7/10.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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