Still Lost in Space
Netflix brings back
the sci-fi classic in this winning reboot
by Mark Mussari
“Danger, Will Robinson.”
You’ll feel a certain
thrill when the Robot speaks those lines in the first episode of Netflix’s
new reboot of Lost in Space. It might be your childhood returning –
or it might just be that you’ve found yourself in a reinvigorated version of
the classic television series. And this time: no camp.
Other attempts have been
made to resurrect Lost in Space. In 1998, a perfectly dreadful movie
version hit the screens. It was supposed to be the first of three, but
response was so negative that the mission was aborted. Even the brilliant
Gary Oldman as Dr. Zachary Smith – the part originated by the scene-stealing
Jonathan Harris – couldn’t save the audience from a pale, humorless William
Hurt as John Robinson and the miscasting of Matt LeBlanc as Major Don West.
In 2003 a television
pilot for a new version of the show was produced for the WB network and
directed by John Woo. This antiseptic, lifeless reworking of the series was
never picked up – and with good reason.
A lot of time and care
went into Netflix’s new series and it shows at every turn. The Robinsons are
once again lost in space on their way from a smog-choked earth to colonize a
brave new world – but changes to the set up, including other settlers, alter
the basic premise just enough to keep it interesting.
Interior sets are
intricate and impressive – and the natural settings in British Columbia add
a certain verisimilitude to “alien” landscapes. Many of the outdoor shots
are breathtaking, lending scenes an expansive quality and a depth sometimes
lacking in CGI.
It had to be a challenge
to cast the new Lost in Space. The original cast is so imbedded in
many boomer and generation X minds (thank you, reruns!) that it can be
difficult for fans to re-envision the characters. This was the flaw in the
1998 movie: instead of making you forget the original cast, it made you long
for them (and some of them made brief cameos in that film).
As in the original
series, there’s continued focus on Will (Maxwell Jenkins) – though one
senses there won’t be any family fading into the background this time. The
Robot is, at least seemingly, an alien life form in this rendering. Will’s
first encounter with his “mechanical friend” offers one of the first
episode’s most riveting scenes.
At first, Jenkins’s Will
isn’t as daring as Billy Mumy’s indelible reading of the role, but the actor
is charming and immediately engaging – and the character has room for growth
and change. The camera loves Jenkins and he accomplishes great things with a
simple facial expression.
This time the Robinsons
are given backstories in flashbacks, which helps to flesh them out a bit
more. The relationship between the parents, John (Toby Stephens) and Maureen
(Molly Parker), is strained for reasons that slowly become clear. And,
unlike June Lockhart who originally played Maureen as a scientist but over
time was relegated to a more maternal role, Parker’s Maureen is fiercely
The romantic scenes
between Maureen and John Robinson reflect the more passionate nature of the
interaction between Lockhart and Guy Williams in the original series’ first
few episodes. But this is many decades later, and their marriage is fraught
with problems – and even secrets.
The Robinson women are
bright, educated, and complex. In addition to Parker, Taylor Russell plays
Judy, the part originated by Marta Kristen, and Mina Sundwall plays Penny,
originally played by Angela Cartwright.
There’s a tradeoff to
some of the casting decisions: by making Penny older, for example, the
character can take more action. But the loss of Penny as a child (Cartwright
was only 12 when the first series premiered) also means losing some of the
innocence and wide-eyed wonder that made the original cast so appealing.
In this iteration, Judy
is Maureen’s daughter from a previous marriage and is biracial, also helping
to bring the show into the 21st century.
“Taylor Russell brings a
depth and a quiet intelligence to Judy,” says Marta Kristen, who originated
the role. “I am so proud of her portrayal.”
Russell told Kristen that
she watched the classic series to study the character.
“Taylor and I both love
the role,” adds Kristen, “and I know there will be a whole new generation of
people who will watch the series and want to find out more about Judy and
the Robinson family.”
One of the new series’
most daring moves is a gender switch: Dr. Smith is a woman this time, played
with finesse by Parker Posey. Expedient and dishonest, this Dr. Smith has
motivations that, at least initially, are less clear. Posey clearly enjoys
the role and carefully doles out pieces of Smith’s character to keep viewers
Parker is counterpointed
nicely by Ignacio Serricchio as Don West, and their initial scenes set up
the infamous tension between the two characters that ran throughout the
first series. Serricchio, with his playboy grin, replaces the militaristic
irascibility Mark Goddard originally brought to the role with a more
A shift in focus in the
last ten minutes of the first episode kicks it into high gear. And look for
an important cameo by one of the original cast members – a cameo that also
explains another character’s background.
Fans of the original show
will hear snippets of the master John Williams’s various themes for the
1960s Lost in Space, and they are worked in subtly and with great
style. At the end of each episode, the fanfare-driven theme of the original
series’ third season delivers the musical goods in a rousing updated
Hopefully the Robinsons
will be lost for quite some time.
Mark Mussari is a
freelance writer, professional translator, and educator. He is the author of
American Life and Television: from I Love Lucy to Mad Men and
Danish Modern: Between Art and Design.
All rights reserved. Posted: April 12, 2018.