Lost in Space has ended. Again. The Netflix reboot of Lost in Space was a three-season juggernaut of good science fiction. The only thing it has in common with its campy original are the names of characters, spaceships, and robots (yes, Robot is still Robot).
The story beginning remains the same, too, a future version of Swiss Family Robinson in space. We all know that was the summary of the pitch meeting from Irwin Allen. The new pitch meeting went like this – we reboot Lost in Space for a new generation, we make it grittier and more realistic; we respect the audience’s intellect and all the great science fiction that has happened since the original. Oh, and Dr. Smith is a woman.
And you know what? They did a great job stripping the names off of old characters and transferring them to new, modern characters with better backstories, more interesting capabilities, and more realistic jeopardy. The monster of the week gets replaced by a three-season story arch about the robot, how he and other robots of his kind have been tortured into using their technology for humanity’s salvation.
Gone are the monsters of week that took Star Trek off track as it attempted to match the show prosthetic for prosthetic. Gone is the hapless, but capable robot, replaced by a much more menacing and believable version of a synthetic being.
When I end a television show or walk out of a movie, my disappointment usually comes down to one thing: all of this money and you couldn’t hire someone to fix the script. Lost in Space doesn’t have that issue. Sure, it gets a little sentimental at the end, but for the most part, the dialog and the narratives make sense.
While the original Lost in Space faced off against Star Trek, it never had the kind of cult following that created a canon. It blew up its own canon week to week, season to season. Lost in Space had no Federation or Prime Directive, no visible Star Fleet. So reinventing Lost in Space did not require many nods to the past. They needed the Robinsons. They needed Robot. And they needed Smith (Parker Posey).
Smith is a great example of a camp clown character transformed into a complex character. In the original series, Dr. Smith was a bumbling genius with an agenda. Here Smith retains the agenda, but proves far from bumbling, and often cunning in her approach to selfishness. But Smith also displays selflessness and bravery at times—which clearly confuses the Robinson clan as much as it does the audience.
Smith is not the only character of dubious origins, Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), also draws strength and complexity from a life of crime. In this Lost in Space West becomes the source of humor. But he too turns his past indiscretions into redemptive power.
If you need a show to demonstrate strong characters to teenage girls look no further than Penny (Mina Sundwall) and Judy Robinson (Taylor Russel). Far from perfect and still learning, but smart, capable, loyal, and resilient.
And of course, Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) is always in trouble, always in “danger.” Yes, the Robot’s sixth sense remains, but Will is a much more capable young man than the original incarnation. Will’s forgiveness and propensity for kindness become the key to unlocking the entire series.
Lost in Space is well worth its three-season, 28-episode run. Irwin Allen may have invested the Jupiter 2 and its Robinson crew (well, borrowed the crew from Johann David Wyss)—but Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless do as much, if not more, for Lost in Space as Ronald D. Moore did for Glen A. Larson’s Battlestar Galactica. I say more because Moore didn’t start off with camp, he started off with a television homage to Star Wars. Sazama and Sharpless turned clowns and camp into high drama and authentic family adventure.
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