Sunday, April 15, 2018

Netflix's Lost In Space - A review

While the original Star Trek series from the 60's is at the core of my utter nerdom, other television shows from that time added to my sad social awkwardness and skewed world view. It goes without saying that Adam West's campy version of the Batman is one of those shows while the other was the totally off the wall Irwin Allen series, Lost In Space.

For those who are unfamiliar, the premise of the original 1960's Lost In Space, is centered around the Robinson family who were being sent to Alpha Centauri to colonize an Earth-like planet orbiting one of the two main stars of that system. Now to nitpick, Allen never stated which of the two main stars that make up that system his fictional pioneers were being sent. That system is made of Alpha Centauri A and the nearby Alpha Centauri B, both good stellar candidates for harboring Earth-like planets if they happen to orbit the Goldilocks Zone of those respective stars. Yes fellow uber-nerds, I know about Alpha Centauri C, or Proxima Centauri. But it's much farther away from the main two stars and just a weak red dwarf with a nasty tendency to emit massive flares that sterilizes the planet we have detected orbiting it. In other words, as real estate goes it can't even be considered a "fixer upper."

Despite Irwin Allen and his writers lack of stellar specificity in the destination of the Robinsons, I'll give them huge points for cracking an encyclopedia and looking up a real place.

Now in my view, the original Lost In Space suffered from a huge problem that ultimately condemned it to ridicule for me. After initially starting out okay, for a 1960's science fiction show, it quickly devolved into a level of campy silliness that would have been over the top for even Adam West. Delving into all the campy particulars would take something approaching an encyclopedia in length, so I'll just say the evil alien carrot-man that threatened the family one episode crossed a line I personally couldn't accept, even at my young age.

The main problem with the show though dealt with the character of Dr. Smith, played by Jonathan Harris, and the family's robot named "Robot", who were in what seemed a constant battle of wits. Dr. Smith was intended to be the villain of the show but quickly became a fan favorite as the character evolved into a bumbling clown with the Robot working to defuse the situations he created while keeping the family safe. Yes, the show has a bit of a cult following, to say the least, but the stories, dialog, costumes, props, and art direction all lacked a certain seriousness which ultimately made it unwatchable for me. Its one redeeming quality was my total infatuation I had with the actress Marta Kristen, who played Judy Robinson on the show.

Like all things kid related, for me the show faded into the background noise of American television culture. I did see the 1990's movie reboot of Lost In Space on VHS at some point but it didn't impress me. The one memorable aspect of the movie was Gary Oldman's portrayal of the Dr. Smith character. The bumbling clown of the television series was replaced with a diabolical character whose only purpose was to cause as much malicious chaos as possible.

Given my disdain for the original series and my indifference to the movie reboot, I was quite surprised with how much I enjoyed the recently released Netflix version of Lost In Space. In fact, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I binged the entire ten episode series yesterday and will be eagerly awaiting a possible second season.

Yes. Netflix did away with every microgram of campiness and went straight science fiction bringing the show back into the bounds of believability. Instead of the Robinson family boldly going all by themselves out into the void, as they did in the original series and movie reboot, the Netflix version has them part of a much larger colonist group.

The characters in the Netflix series are far more developed and have been adjusted to fit the sensibilities of 2018. The male lead character of the original series and movie reboot, John Robinson, is no longer leader of the family or even the group as a whole. In the Netflix series, he is a Navy SEAL who was estranged from his wife, Maureen, and their three kids due to his military career. The female lead, Maureen Robinson, is a scientist in her own right and in charge of the family unit on the voyage to Alpha Centauri. I somehow missed the part explaining how John and Maureen reconciled enough for him to become part of the colonist group. Toby Stephens, who plays John, and Molly Parker, who plays Maureen worked their characters into three dimensional human beings with their own strengths and weaknesses.

The kids who played Judy, Penny, and Will Robinson were required to stay somewhat close to the overachieving wonder kids in the previous versions of the show. Since we're talking about colonizing another planet, it just wouldn't have been reasonable to think any sane selection committee would have allowed teenage slackers with antisocial attitudes to join the group. 

One aspect of the show I have to bring up because of some internet whining about how Hollywood is being mean to white people is the fact that Judy Robinson in the new version is adopted and a child of mixed race. Somehow having Judy from a different ethnic group is the sole reason a few people do not like the show. Apparently in their stunted, right-wing snowflake view that since Judy was a white girl in the previous versions, she must stay that way.

More butt hurt comments have come from those whining that Maureen Robinson is in charge of the family and not her husband, John. I find it incredible that such views not only still exist but are numerous enough that they can be discerned from the overall human internet static.

What I liked most about the new version of the Lost In Space was that they used reason and science to solve the problems they faced. Believe it or not, a weapon only showed up in two episodes and its use did not solve a single problem, in fact it made things worse. For an American television show, where weapons and their excessive use to solve problems are ubiquitous, I found the new Lost In Space quite refreshing.

The best part of the show in many ways was the new Dr. Smith played by Parker Posey. The original Dr. Smith was a comedic buffoon while the movie reboot Dr. Smith was like a Jame Bond villain, clearly evil but not realistic in many ways. Parker Posey's version is a true sociopath who would embarrass Hannibal Lecter with her ability to lie and manipulate those around her. No, she doesn't eat anyone's liver with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti. But her reality is so distorted that she readily endangered the lives of both the Robinson family and the colonist group as a whole many times. I will not spoil the backstory as to how she was able to join the colonists headed for Alpha Centauri.

Highest kudos have go to Ignacio Serricchio who plays the character Don West. If there was any comic relief it was him who played his character as part expert engineer, Geordi LaForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation and part rogue scoundrel, Han Solo from Star Wars.

As for the Netflix version of the much loved Robot, all I will say is that they pulled a creative home run with how they handled it. Much of the first season revolves around how the family learns to deal with it.

Yeah, I liked the new Lost In Space a lot which quite frankly surprises me. While they do solve all of their problems using science and reason, there are a number of questionable assumptions and scenarios I ignored in several episodes simply because we're still talking about a television series. All things considered, it's still a highly family friendly show to watch, as long as you do not get bogged down in male chauvinistic crap and low level racism.

Yes, I highly recommend it!


Ranch Chimp said...

Brought back old memories as far as the 60's show, I actually liked that show too!

Ranch Chimp said...

BTW, one that I enjoyed on Netflix last year, and wanted to see the 2nd season is call "The 3%", a near future type flick, where the goal is to get into the Top 3% of the population. I have Netflix, but rarely watch anything on it (it's on my familia plan) ... but that 3% really grabbed my interest!

Pixel Peeper said...

I never saw the 60's TV show or the movie from the 90's, but I love this one! We just watched the second episode tonight.

Beach Bum said...

Ranch: I'll have to check that show out.

Pixel: It's awesome!