Well this is a pleasant surprise.
Big budget sci-fi or not, a show in which an imperfect but ultimately wholesome family overcomes great obstacles and realizes they can do anything if they work together might sound too cheesy to possibly be any good. But that's exactly what Netflix's Lost in Space is: great science fiction with a positive message that's safe for the whole family to watch together. The fact that it's also a faithful, yet transformative adaptation of a decades-dormant sci-fi classic only makes it sweeter.
In the new Lost in Space, the Robinsons aren't the vanilla nuclear family you remember from the original. John Robinson (Toby Stephens) is a secretive soldier who, before the family's journey, was more or less estranged from his wife and kids. Maureen (Molly Parker) is a mother who will do anything for her kids--right or wrong be damned. Daughter Penny (Mina Sundwall) doesn't fit any stereotypes--she's obsessed with books, but isn't afraid to take the wheel and steer the ship when she has to. Judy (Taylor Russell) is Maureen's daughter from a previous marriage, and has darker skin--she's a skilled teenage doctor, but becomes hindered by trauma on the journey. The youngest, Will (Max Jenkins), is a capable kid who's troubled by the notion that he doesn't belong there.
Put these five together with some great writing that feels true to how families actually communicate, and you get a surprisingly realistic dynamic. The Robinsons aren't some idealized American family, despite the fact that they're some of the best humanity has to offer (it's not easy to qualify for the trip on the colony ship that spirited them away from Earth). Their bonds are messy and complex, which is much more interesting.
The show's first season opens with the Robinsons' personal familial ship, the Jupiter 2, crash-landing on a mysterious planet in the wake of some disaster on their much larger colony vessel. Over the course of the season, they'll meet other survivors: Ignacio Serricchio's pragmatic Don West, Parker Posey's conniving Dr. Smith, Raza Jaffrey's leadership-minded Victor, and more. These characters bounce off and orbit one another in ways that move the story forward, even as they all face obstacle after obstacle.
If there's one criticism of this show, it's that it relies far too heavily on Murphy's Law--anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I noted this after reviewing the first episode, and it only got more true throughout the rest of Season 1. Every time these survivors overcome one obstacle, two or three more pop up in its wake. Lost in Space definitely vibes on The Martian, as the Robinsons and co. are forced to use everything at their disposal, from planetary resources to debris from their wrecked ships, in order to survive.
Oh, and the robot helps a lot. The robot! If there was one thing on this show that might have threatened to sink the whole thing with raw cheesiness, it was the robot. Little kids watching the original Lost in Space dreamed of having their own pet robot; how could that not turn out corny? But by making the robot alien in origin--a new twist on the old character--Netflix's Lost in Space reinvigorates it. The robot is still Will's best friend, and yes, it utters that iconic phrase, "Danger, Will Robinson." But the more the Robinsons learn about it, the more interesting their relationship with the robot becomes. It's at the center of some of the season's best moments.
But Lost in Space isn't just about relationships and family drama. The fact that all this takes place against a backdrop of hardcore science fiction is borderline incredible. Even when you factor in futuristic technology, it seems like some of the show's finer scientific points must be dramatized past the point of realism, but it's not usually easy to tell. Hopefully Neil Degrasse Tyson weighs in soon.
What makes Lost in Space a true binge is not the moment-to-moment drama. It's the characters and the talented actors who portray them. Fresh off his memorable stint as the lead pirate on the Starz drama Black Sails, Toby Stephens puts in some of his best work as a gruff dad who's trying to do better for his family. Molly Parker matches his performance with ease, and Maureen is a complicated mother. The younger actors are all great as well, particularly Max (who plays Will), whose last job--no joke--was performing in the circus.
The one weak link in the characters is Parker Posey's Dr. Smith, who's written just a bit too villainously in the show's first season. Her motivations and actual personality get lost in her sociopathic schemes, and by the end it's hard to remember what her goal even is. Why is she so evil? If you have it all figured out, feel free to drop a comment below.
That Netflix will grant Lost in Space a second season is pretty much guaranteed. For now, enjoy one of the best sci-fi shows in recent memory--with your whole family, if you want.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Well written characters with complex dynamics||Too much Murphy's Law|
|Great cast||One character is poorly written|
|Big budget effects and sets|
|Often seems to get the science right|