Lost In Space. If you can’t get the Footloose references in Guardians Of The Galaxy, then the title will probably go right past you.
For those of us who have passed the Big Four-Oh (and then some), Lost In Space conjures up fond memories – catchy John Williams themes, tinfoil spacesuits, recycled props from 1950s flicks, and lizards with papier mache frills stuck on to pass them off as giant monsters.
The short-lived 1960s space opera produced by Master of Disaster Irwin Allen also gave us the immortal line “Danger, Will Robinson” (Will being the youngest member of the spacefaring Robinsons, the family that was, well, lost in space) and OTT villain Dr Zachary Smith going to great lengths to either get out of work or exploit the Robinsons for his own ends.
Fond memories lead to a collective desire for revival, and a 1998 film tried to reintroduce the Robinsons to a new age, but was forgettable, and failed. John Woo directed a pilot for a new series in 2004 but it was never aired and thus, never picked up.
For years, any hope of a Lost In Space revival remained as lost as the Robinsons. But then along came this relatively unheralded Netflix series and suddenly, all was right in the universe once more.
The new Lost In Space not only recaptures the sweeping sense of adventure of the original, it goes beyond. Utilising the most soaring portions of Williams’ theme, with 21st-century special effects and slick set design, the series immediately tells us it means business. No cheesy production values for this Swiss … er, Space Family Robinson.
And by the end of the first episode, it is plain to see that these Robinsons are significantly different from the perfect nuclear family of the 1960s.
Dad John (Toby Stephens) and Mum Maureen (Molly Parker) are barely on speaking terms. Eldest daughter Judy (Taylor Russell) has a near-fatal experience that leaves her struggling with the trauma.
Youngest kid Will (Maxwell Jenkins) is a bright lad but not perfect, so we are well away from Wesley Crusher territory here. And middle daughter Penny (Mina Sundwall) … well, while Judy is a doctor and Will is a geologist-wannabe, it isn’t quite clear what Penny does, but she gets some of the best one-liners.
Individually and collectively, the new Robinsons are an interesting and watchable unit.
The premise is clearly defined: with the world facing a slow death after a Near Earth Object slams into it, a massive colonisation vessel is sent off to the nearest star, Alpha Centauri, to establish a new home for mankind.
The Robinsons are just part of this colossal undertaking, and an unexpected encounter sends them, along with other colonists, into a wormhole and off to another (fortunately habitable) planet.
How the family struggles to survive on this new world – hey, we said “habitable”, not “hospitable” – and reconnect with their mother ship makes up most of the first 10-episode season.
There’s more to it. For starters, the unnamed robot that was a huge part of the original series (and the utterer of “Danger, Will Robinson” as well as “It does not compute”, among others lines) comes into the Robinsons’ company in an entirely different way. And it’s also part of a larger mystery that unravels over the course of the debut season.
But another aspect of the new show that scores high marks is its central villain. While the original Dr Smith was a cowardly, conniving caricature (and no less beloved for it), the 2018 version is one nasty sociopath.
Played by Parker Posey, this “Dr Smith” (we learn more about her real identity as the season progresses) is manipulative, cunning, resourceful and insidious – the perfect serpent for the warped paradise in which the Robinsons have been stranded.
Her keen understanding of human nature – the basic-impulse fundamentals on which lies of convenience are spun – allows her to twist nearly everything and everyone to her will, and it is both repulsive and fascinating to watch her at work.
Still, the first season is more than just Smith vs the Robinsons and their fellow spacefarers. You get disaster, literal cliffhangers, paranoia, the series’ interpretation of A Quiet Place, and an exciting finale.
The Robinsons (and Smith) have only just begun to grow on us; let’s hope there will be more to come, and that Lost In Space will have finally found a new home after all these decades.