While it takes a few episodes to coalesce, the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space finally kicks into gear to deliver an engaging sci-fi adventure with heart.
No one was more excited to hear about a retooled Lost in Space than me. I’ve held a very special place in my heart for the original ’60s series since being a kid and watching re-runs on Saturday mornings. There was something so compelling about the Robinson family being stranded in space or on some distant planet, trying their best to get back home to Earth. Dr. Smith always messed things up and blamed everyone else for it, while also slinging cleverly worded insults at the Robot, who, in turn, had a close bond with young Will Robinson. I was already big on sci-fi and fantasy, loving re-runs of Star Trek at the same time, but I connected with the Robinsons much more.
The 1998 movie version of Lost in Space, however, was a huge disappointment. It took itself far too seriously, with William Hurt no fun at all, Mimi Rogers completely wasted and Matt LeBlanc a complete yawn. Then there was Gary Oldman playing a truly sinister Dr. Smith (who actually turns into a giant spider at one point). The movie completely missed the mark and thankfully they didn’t try to correct things with a sequel. When Netflix planned the reboot, there was hope the movie could be erased for good – and the streaming service succeeded.
First, it was the announcement of who would play the pivotal characters. Toby Stephens — hot off his hit Starz show Black Sails, which ended last year – was tapped as John Robinson, while Molly Parker of Netflix’s House of Cards fame was cast as Maureen Robinson. But it was when they cast Parker Posey as the new Dr. Smith that my interest was immediately piqued – and rightfully so. The actress is definitely one of the best parts of the new series, as the Dr. Smith character is completely rejiggered while still maintaining some of the same original essence.
Actually, what this new Lost in Space does do is incorporate the family atmosphere of the original without becoming too campy or too serious. The premise is roughly the same: The Robinsons are on a mission to colonize Alpha Centuri but must escape from a malfunctioning space station on the Jupiter 2, eventually crash-landing on a nearby planet.
Except this isn’t exactly the picture-perfect Robinson family from the original. John is estranged from his family after spending too much time away from them serving in the military, and he and Maureen are on the brink of divorce. Maureen is an astrophysicist and clearly the one who wears the pants in the family. Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) is Maureen’s mixed-race child from a previous relationship (but they really don’t go into it at all, which is fine), and was on her way to becoming a doctor before they took off on their adventure. Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall) is a surly teenager who would love to be doing anything else than being stuck with her family, while young Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) has zero confidence in himself. Together they present a rather genuine family dynamic that only grows more so throughout the 10 episodes.
The Robinsons are truly the heart of series, and the reason you become attached. Stephens and Parker have a whip-smart connection from the beginning, and watching them as a strained married couple trying to find each other again is refreshing. As for the kids, Russell and Jenkins sometimes come off a little too earnest and forced, but Sundwall really shines as the rebellious Penny. It’ll be fun to see what she does with the character moving forward.
Like I mentioned, Parker’s Dr. Smith has been completely re-imagined and not to give much away, she isn’t at all what she seems. More con-artist than anything else, Smith is also primarily a survivalist and will do and say anything to ensure her own personal safety, even at the expense of others. Still, there’s a bit of soft underbelly there, and she isn’t completely devoid of a moral compass. Posey plays it with quirky perfection. After Season 1, you definitely want to find out what she’ll do next.
As for the other regular from the original show, pilot Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), here he is portrayed as a rogue smuggler. He also looks out for No.1 (usually in the form of financial compensation) but ends up bonding with the Robinsons, especially with Judy. Serricchio does a great job and adds a lot of charisma to the cast.
The Robinsons, Smith and West are not alone, either. Other “Jupiters” have also crash landed there, so the other survivors work with the Robinsons to try and figure out how they are going to get off this horribly dangerous planet and back to the space station, which has been mostly repaired but is being forced to leave soon due to mounting and urgent circumstances.
The look of the show is pretty amazing, an ambitious effort to say the least, with the planet literally trying to kill the survivors every step of the way. Seriously, the Robinsons spend the majority of their time averting certain death – like trying not to freeze in ice or being submerged in black tar or outrunning geyser-like bursts of gas – while also having many of their plans to leave the planet thwarted again and again. It gets a little tiresome at points, like “Can’t these people catch a freaking break?” but it does keep the tension levels on high.
And finally, the Robot. Like Dr. Smith, this new version of the iconic Lost in Space character has been radically changed. In fact, this Robot is actually an alien of sorts, who has something to do with the space station being damaged and who has also crash landed on its ship. Will is the first to find this totally cool-looking creature, who “imprints” on the young boy and becomes programmed to protect him at all costs. He only says one thing, “Danger, Will Robinson” – and there it is! Yet, this Robot is what will take the Robinsons on a further adventure in Season 2.
This new Lost in Space is infused with a great cast, impressive visuals and an appreciation for its original source material. It does take a little time to warm up but once it does, you’re hooked. Lost in Space premieres April 13 on Netflix.