Netflix Lost in Space hits all the right notes

Eliot HochbergNew TV, Online Shows, Show Review, TelevisionLeave a Comment

Friendly robot?

Lost in Space

The name evokes a Partridge Family-meets-Star Trek-meets-HR PufnStuf image that for some is a great memory, and for others could be better left behind where it was. The 1998 reboot was a noble effort, but didn’t really excite most folks, and didn’t lead to what surely was an expected series of films. Why, then, did Netflix reboot it yet again?

In an era where everything is a grittier, more realistic reimagining of old, familiar series, it was probably inevitable that Lost in Space would get redone. And I’m sure My Mother the Car and Mr. Ed have at least been suggested along the way in some shiny conference room in the heart of Hollywood. But Lost in Space is one of those series that has real potential. Like Battlestar Galactica before it, Lost in Space is almost unwatchable today, but had all of the elements of something good: an ensemble set of characters that covers all of the bases: protective mom, heroic dad, attractive daughters, wild card first officer, annoying kid, the ever untrustworthy creepy old man, and, of course, a robot.

What, then, to do with a reboot?

First, this is a hard science show. I’m sure there is a lot of physics they get wrong. But it feels accurate, certainly more accurate than Star Wars or even Star Trek. It didn’t have to be, but in an age where everything rebooted is either totally overblown or hyper realistic, it’s nice to see that the producers made the choice to try and at least seem real. Perhaps shows like The Expanse proved to them that enough of an audience was into that for it to work. Plus, there’s plenty of drama to be had with reality, we don’t need fakey science to get us there.

Refreshing.

Additionally, some liberties have been taken with the premise. I’m sure there are fanboys (let’s face it, it’s probably 99% boys, stop it boys, you’re ruining everything) who object to this or that choice. Spoilers may be ahead, although I think the trailer gives a lot of this away, but the backstory of the robot (a way cool design, by the way) is a unique take on the setup, as is the idea that the Robinson family isn’t the only group out there lost.

Speaking of the family, this is a great cast. Even the “annoying kid” is excellent, and the writers have done a good job of justifying every character, with flashbacks and choices that generally feel “right.” The actors are all great, although there are some wooden moments from time to time. To me, that goes hand in hand with the hard science; people who are really into science are sometimes a little stiff. I’m taking it as a character choice, rather than a failure of talent.

The real story, however, is Parker Posey.

Watch out for Parker Posey as Dr. Smith

The history of Dr. Smith is one of various forms of evil or mayhem. Smith is the prototype for Gaius Baltar, Harry Mudd, and all of the other selfish characters who aren’t technically evil, but can’t really help themselves because they are just built that way. The scorpions of the spacefaring set.

Posey’s Dr. Smith, however, is unquestionably unhinged. Happily willing to cause destruction and death if she thinks it will serve her purposes. Just broken enough that it comes across, but you believe that others would be fooled. Creepy, calculating, devious, selfish. I even like seeing her try and trick someone and fail utterly. She’s not a perfect villain. But she’s a good one.

I also want to give special notice to the actress playing Penny, Mina Sundwall. Sundwall manages to be angsty, teenagery, and snarky all in good measure. I found myself cheering for her talk backs on more than a couple of occasions. Toby Stephens (John Robinson), Holly Parker (Maureen Robinson), Taylor Russell (Judy Robinson), Maxwell Jenkins (Will Robinson), and Ignacio Serricchio (Don West) all do their part to contribute to the overall success of the show, not to mention the rest of the cast of which there are many. But Posey and Sundwall are the standouts in my view.

Great cast plus great writing equals great show!

And for the inevitable naysayers of a woman playing Dr. Smith, get over it. If it had been a bad actor, or someone going way over the top, or what have you, then maybe there would be a point. But Posey is the perfect pick for Dr. Smith. Not silly by a long shot, instead the appropriate version of Dr. Smith for today’s audience. While we’re talking about female roles, the women characters are all truly equal to the men, with Maureen Robinson a bit more equal. It doesn’t feel shoved in your face, although I admit to one fossilized observation: I’m not sure the origin for Judy Robinson. That said, it doesn’t matter. It’s not yet important to the story, and I appreciate not having it served up like it makes a difference. There are numerous potential explanations, but who cares, really? As I say, it’s because of my age that I even noticed, and it really doesn’t matter to the story.

All in all, this Lost in Space is one of the few reboots that is actually worthwhile. While some may remember the original fondly, it was awful, and if we’re going to be remaking things, why not take a potentially good premise whose original execution doesn’t hold up and make it better. That’s what’s happened here, and I’m all for it.

Lost in Space
Netflix

7 out of 10 stars
Hard science is not for everyone, and sometimes a harder solution when a simpler one might have done

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Eliot has been orbiting show business for over 20 years as an improv comedian, video director, and general guy you might barely recognize. Currently best known for his work on the comedy podcast Never Not Funny: The Jimmy Pardo Podcast. He wrote previously for MacEdition.com, and is working on a collection of short sci-fi and weird tales that will probably be published someday. He is also one of three principals in Modest Games.
Eliot HochbergNetflix Lost in Space hits all the right notes