Lost in Space has seen a number of attempts at getting the reboot treatment since it’s highly successful 3 season run from 1965 to 1968 on CBS. One has seen the light of day (the 1998 movie), but the rest have not gone beyond the pitch (2003 animated series pitch) or pilot stages (like the 1973 animated series and John Woo’s attempt). But alas, we live in the age of reboots now and no property is safe from being given a second life… for better or worse.
Enter April 13 2018’s launch of Netflix’s Lost in Space. A lot has changed with the world in the 50 years that the show last aired. Technology, family dynamics, values, entertainment… So of course the new series would be more than a simple reskin of what was. If it were, it would likely be alien to a lot of viewers.
Before I get into the meat of the review, let me preface it by saying this – I am not familiar with the show because I grew up catching the show in syndicated reruns. My father was a true blooded LisFan. We’d sit and watch and discuss Lost in Space, the actors, the props. Fantasize about what they could do for a reunion movie or series. He’d show me pictures and share articles about fans discovering or rebuilding things like the Chariot and Robot. There were autographed pictures, models, posters and other memorabilia all about his house amongst his Billy Jack, Alice Cooper and Batman collections. Having lost my dad in 2016, this new Netflix series came with it a heavy emotional connection.
Some minor spoilers ahead.
A lot has changed in this reimagined series. The Robinson family is no longer the sole hope for humanity they once were, and no longer the first space family. Now they are just one of many families that have been selected to head to Alpha Centauri (something it actually shares with the John Woo version). Dr. Smith is not really Dr. Smith, but someone who stole his identity. Major Don West is no longer an upstanding military pilot. Dr. Smith is no longer the cause of the Jupiter 2’s initial demise. Say what you will about the 1998 movie, but they stuck much closer to it’s inspirations before it veered way off course in its third act.
Netflix’s Lost in Space gets right into the departure and crash of the Jupiter 2 onto an alien planet then uses flashbacks to build the back story and big plot reveals. It works for the most part, but is a big departure from the original series. You lose that intimate, being there in the moment with the Robinson’s where you felt like you were on the journey with them.
There are core story beats that the show gets right: Will Robinson and the Robot’s camaraderie (although in the original series Dr. Smith started out in control of the Robot). Dr. Smith’s obsession with and constant attempts to utilize the Robot for her own plans. Judy and Don’s “will they, won’t they” tension. Penny and Will’s closeness. The constant give and pull of things going right then going horribly wrong. Then there are some added elements that work but feel superfluous such as making John and Maureen Robinson’s marriage a rocky one and making Will buckle under pressure. In the end, it helps give the characters a personal story arch which provides some emotional payoff. Penny Robinson was solid all around as the jokester middle child. This characteristic made her stand out more than the more quiet middle child Angela Cartwright played in the 60’s (not that Miss Cartwright was forgettable in the least!).
I was surprised, given how much the show changed, how much it actually pulls from the original’s first season. My eyes welled up with tears when the original theme started playing. The first mention of the Chariot gave me goosebumps. There’s a scene in like the first or second episode of the the original series where they have to rescue the dad who is floating out in space by shooting a harpoon type gun out to him. A similar scene plays out in the new series. A map system on an alien space craft gives the family some insight where they are and how far off course they are. It’s little things like these that made me feel like the showrunners had some respect for the source material by finding creative ways to pay homage while creating something new.
Danger Will Robinson!
Where the new Lost in Space fell apart mostly for me was the series ended where it should have began – or at least reached midway through the series. The big pay off at the end of the season is finally getting John, Maureen, Judy, Penny, Will, Don and Dr. Smith together on the Jupiter 2 floating about lost in space. While this makes me very eager for Season 2 to hurry up and get here, it felt like a bold choice that could have not paid off if the overall reception was bad. Being stranded on a planet for repairs is only part of the magic Lost in Space formula. It was missing a lot of the actually being lost in space part of it. That being said, I did enjoy the new series and can easily recommend it. As a long time fan there are things I wish were done differently, but for new generations discovering this property for the first time there is plenty to enjoy.