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Three Episode Thoughts: “Lost in Space”

While Netflix has done a bang up job with much of their original content, the popular streaming service chose to cast its sight on attempting one more reboot of the classic, and ultimately terribly campy series, Lost in Space.

Instead of going for more of the updated reboot, as was done in 1998 with the theatrical release starring John Hurt and Gary Oldman, Netflix has apparently revisited a previously proposed, and eventually abandoned, premise of the series from 2003 that saw the Robinson family on a space station that fell under attack, and with some of the debris that was sealed off to prevent decompression, crashed on a planet. Thankfully that version, which was intended for the WB, was never sold and it remained unaired. However, for those of you with strong constitutions, it can be found on YouTube. Instead what we have is something of a blend between what the WB had considered, with some more familiar elements from the theatrical release.

The Robinson family, along with many, many other families, are on a giant spacecraft called The Resolute. Attached to this giant ship are a very large number of smaller ships called “Jupiter,” with each given its own numerical designation. Of course the Robinsons are given the Jupiter 2, and the series immediately opens up with all sorts of DANGER DANGER DANGER going on. The ships are all ejected from the Resolute as it mysteriously starts falling apart. Naturally the Jupiter 2 crashes on a very distant world, and very much off course from their original destination. The ship is damaged and is buried in a glacier. As the family tries to recover and salvage the ship in the hopes of getting it out, they get separated as young Will falls down some tunnel that takes him from the top of the glacier down to a more forested area. While there Will comes across another crashed, and very different, ship and almost immediately encounters some mechanical device that starts to pursue him. After he climbs a tree he meets up with the rest of it as it was severed in half. Through either the goodness of his heart, or sheer stupidity, he helps the two halves become whole, and now this new character appears to be in his debt. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a terribly unlikable character who is full of lies and deceit, and she is pretty much doing anything to save her hide, including abandoning the only human who has been showing her any kindness. We then go back to the Jupiter 2, where young Will and his new friend end up helping to save the day during a very critical moment for another member of the family.

I would have hoped that after three episodes of this series that I would have a decent sense as to my feelings towards this show. Unfortunately I don’t, and that gives me some concern. I admit to having very fond feelings for the original CBS series from 1965, and I even oddly enough sort of liked the 1998 film, but this Netflix series just has me boggled. I admit to not being a fan of stories that throw you right in to the middle of the mess, and unfortunately that’s what this series does. Our introduction to these characters will simply have to wait as we are witnessing a life threatening disaster. And yet, because we haven’t really been shown anything about this family, everyone’s story will be shown through flashbacks. Through this gimmick we see what makes the Robinson family tick (and it’s not all good), as well as getting a glimpse into the horrible person we come to know as “Dr. Smith.” The flashbacks are jarring and do very little to actually advance any of the characters’ individual arcs. They are at best mere place settings to help us understand where we as the audience are at in this story. After all it’s much better to just throw the viewer into Chapter 3, but as you start to go through Chapter 4 you are immediately taken back to Chapter 1. Anybody taking notes???

I’m also very puzzled by the characters. With the CBS series we were introduced to, for the most part, a family of very likable people. After all, who would want to revisit a series week after week if the characters weren’t likable? Even Dr. Smith, with all of his scheming and complaining, had a certain campiness, as well as ultimately a good heart, that made for him to become a character that graduated from just being a Special Guest Star to a series regular, despite what the opening credits said with each episode. However, with this new show, it appears that the show runners wanted to give us a family that was perhaps more “real.” It appears to be a blended family of some sort, and things are not going all that great between the parents. These are to be our colonists and the hope for humanity. While I can have some small bit of respect for the desire to create more realistic characters, they are so poorly written that at no time have I been able to actually find anyone that I truly like. Even the Robot, who is at this moment in the series a complete mystery, has absolutely nothing going for it, except for its enigmatic background.

Brian Steele as the Robot

 

The series stars Molly Parker as Maureen Robinson, and she is one truly unlikable character. She’s supposed to be this representation of the strong woman with leadership qualities, but instead we see someone who is actually rather bossy. Then there is Toby Stephens as John Robinson. With him we see the absent father who still tries play the part of “Dad,” but fails miserably because he has no idea who these people are who make up his family. The children, Maxwell Jenkins, Taylor Russell, and Mina Sundwall as Will, Judy, and Penny respectively, come off very badly as future colonists. Early on we are told that everyone who hopes to go into space must go through a strict testing process. Well apparently there were no psychological tests for character and personality, because these kids are petty and bicker a lot. If this is the hope for humanity then I think we are doomed. Then there is the one character that irks me the most, and that is June Harris, aka Dr. Smith. Played by Parker Posey, this character is essentially a criminal, but has all the personality traits of a fungus. Just when I thought I started to get a read on her, she ends up doing something extremely unselfish, noble, and life saving. When she is shown enormous gratitude for her gesture, she turns around and looks to stab this family in the back, all because of her craving for survival, which in of itself is never properly explained. The flashbacks show us how she snuck on board the Resolute, as well as how she escaped certain death. She is the worst character of the lot while she should be the most compelling. Instead she is so badly written that all I want to do is hit the fast forward button whenever she comes on the screen.

Parker Posey

Lastly, this series appears to be more about jokes and gags as Easter eggs. We see crates with the name Goddard on them, there is a picture of Bill Mumy as a Dr. Smith, and the one that bugs me most is the character of June Harris is actually a combination of original cast member names June Lockhart and Jonathan Harris. It’s gags like this that make me wonder if the writers put the bulk of their creative energies into Easter eggs instead of quality stories with quality characters.

After three episodes, this series has not really done anything to grab and hold my attention as a potential viewer, which could serve as a downside to the Netflix model of having the entire series filmed and then dropped in its entirety for viewing. This does not allow for any fine-tuning of the series as it goes on. Instead the show runners have to wait until most viewers see the entire series and then get any required feedback. Because of this broadcast model, I feel that there is little improvement during the first three episodes to make this a series I would happily watch. I don’t actively dislike this series, but I’m not drawn towards it, and knowing that makes me feel only a sense of profound disappointment. All I can say for now is, Lost in Space is truly lost on me.
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Have you watched Lost in Space, and if you did what did you think of it? Did you enjoy the show, and what made it work for you? Is it a good reboot? If not, what would you change?
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3 Comments

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  1. I finished the whole season the other day, and while there were some creative choices I took issue with (starting in media res NOT being one of them as I think the story we got just wouldn’t work if told chronologically*), overall I really liked it. I thought Parker Posey was fantastic as “Dr. Smith,” and I had no problems with the kids (though I am still uncertain as to what Penny did that got her approved for the Resolute). I’d say more, but that would be entering spoiler territory for the episodes you haven’t seen yet, but I will say that everything Posey’s character does, you’ll find is calculating (even when it doesn’t entirely work, which is a nice bit of realism IMO). Even the good deeds.

    And honestly, I don’t see why all the nods to the previous series would be considering a negative. Heck, I actually missed one of them until you pointed it out. All in all, I think my Dad (who was the one who turned me on to the original series as he’d watched it as a kid, and we both saw the movie in theaters together) would’ve liked this series, and like me he’d be hoping for a season 2.

    * Heck, if they’d gone chronological here we wouldn’t even see the Jupiter 2 until like Episode 3 at the earliest.

  2. Oh, and one more thing? The music on this show is fantastic.

  3. I have to agree with Arkle. I am liking this version of Lost In Space. As a fan of the original series and the movie they did (I liked it) I do like the plugs and easter egg tributes tossed in. The one thing I agree with Ben on is that I am not a fan of being thrown into this without being introduced to the characters and given some background. It really makes it hard to care for and relate to them. But in seeing 4 episodes I do see why they did it. I look forward to finishing this season up and offering a better critique. 🙂

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