Lost in Space

PLEASE NOTE: ScienceFiction.com was given special early access to the first five episodes of  ‘Lost In Space’ courtesy of Netflix.  Minor spoilers may lie in the review below, but all major plot-specific spoilers have been given their best attempt at being avoided.  Please proceed in reading this advance review with this knowledge and at your own risk!

Moving into the fourth episode of Netflix’s reimagining of classic 1960s sci-fi series ‘Lost in Space,’ a somewhat disturbing pattern is starting to emerge: the episodes themselves are absolutely gorgeous, but the character development is akin to the Jupiter 2’s Chariot wheels-deep in a bog of alien mud: spinning its wheels fruitlessly and going nowhere, really.

It’s a shame, too, because I do think the actors in the series are very talented.  Molly Parker, whom TV fans may recognize from her stints on ‘Deadwood’ and ‘House of Cards,’ is effective in her action scenes as the take-charge Maureen Robinson, but I find her scenes with husband John Robinson (played by relative newcomer Toby Stephens) fairly strained, and I don’t buy into the pair’s emotional dynamic.  Stephens himself vacillates between varying degrees of impersonating either Jon Bernthal or John C. McGinley, depending on the amount of vocal inflection he wants to utilize in trying to be “cool Dad” or “strained relationship Dad;” this version of John Robinson is written as a fairly-absentee military father, and it’s not an enviable disposition to have to try and bring to life on screen.

Taylor Russell as the overachieving Judy Robinson seems to get lost in the shuffle of the plot lines past the first episode, where a trauma befell her which now seems to largely and unfairly define her character.  Mina Sundwall seesaws between playing the stereotypical socially-awkward teen or the rebellious one; this is less the fault of her acting abilities and more to do with what she’s given by the vaguery of the scripts.  Ignacio Serricchio plays Don West as well as he can, but the character is clearly an afterthought to the storyline of these first few episodes, added in because, quite simply, the character also existed in the original series.  Max Jenkins does well in playing Will Robinson, but the character is completely overshadowed by the very existence of the enigmatic alien Robot that (almost) never leaves his side.

lost in space

Which brings us to the biggest head-scratcher of all: the fabulous Parker Posey, who is so sorely underutilized as Doctor Smith that the story and feel being established by these first few episodes would go largely unchanged if her character was written out.  In the first season of the original ‘Lost in Space,’ Smith was a conniving and a fairly dangerous presence before the creative team had him “lighten up” into the mostly-comedic foil of the later seasons.  With what the audience is given of Posey’s Smith so far, it’s hard to discern whether she is truly “evil” or simply opportunistic to the point of putting her own needs above others.  In either case, she’s simply not given enough to do and spends most of the episodes so far skulking around behind other characters and making vaguely-threatening faces.  It feels like a significantly missed opportunity so far.

I’ve spent most of this review so far speaking of some of the challenges the show faces in its presentation of the main characters, but there is plenty that the show is doing right so far as well.  As I mentioned above, the visual aesthetics of the episodes are top-notch; every time a Jupiter goes flying, or a Chariot rumbles by, or the alien planet landscape is featured in wide-shot, it’s abundantly clear that Netflix made the look of this show a top priority.  The mysteries of the over-arching plot are definitely attention-grabbing, even if the series does feel like it’s slow-rolling the “big questions” of how the Robinsons became “lost in space,” why their colony transport ship was destroyed or thrown off course, and how the alien Robot figures into the bigger picture of the mystery.

This fourth episode answers none of those questions, of course, but it does make one intriguing deviation from the original series; in the ’60s version, the Robinsons were the only humans around as the Jupiter 2 was designed to be a self-sustained vessel that made its trip all alone.  In this series, however, the Resolute carried at least 20 Jupiter-class vessels, all with different familial crews, and apparently a crew for the transport ship itself.  Where the classic ‘Lost in Space’ isolated the Robinsons in space, the updated ‘Lost in Space’ – while trying, again, to stay as spoiler-free as possible – gives the Robinsons some opportunities to cross paths with other humans on their journey.  It’s an interesting change, and I’m interested to see how this brand-new dynamic plays out.

We’re back tomorrow with the review of the fifth and final advance-screened episode of ‘Lost in Space!’

Lost in Space is a Netflix Original dramatic and modern reimagining of the classic 1960’s science fiction series. Set 30 years in the future, colonization in space is now a reality, and the Robinson family is among those tested and selected to make a new life for themselves in a better world. But when the new colonists find themselves abruptly torn off course en route to their new home they must forge new alliances and work together to survive in a dangerous alien environment, light-years from their original destination. Stranded along with the Robinsons are two outsiders who find themselves thrown together by circumstance and a mutual knack for deception. The unsettlingly charismatic Dr. Smith is a master manipulator with an inscrutable end game. And the roguish, but inadvertently charming Don West is a highly-skilled, blue collar contractor, who had no intention of joining the colony, let alone crash landing on a lost planet.

Lost in Space stars Toby Stephens as John Robinson, Molly Parker as Maureen Robinson, Parker Posey as Dr. Smith, Ignacio Serricchio as Don West, Taylor Russell as Judy Robinson, Mina Sundwall as Penny Robinson and Max Jenkins as Will Robinson.

The full first season of ‘Lost in Space’ will premiere on Netflix on Friday, April 13, 2017.