The campy retro-futuristic classic Lost in Space is being rebooted yet again despite the star-studded disastrous outing on the big screen in the 90s, and this time it’s a 10-episode serialized series from the streaming giant Netflix. As far as iconic properties go, Lost in Space wasn’t exactly screaming for the re-imagining treatment, but Netflix provided us with the entire first season and much to my surprise the team put together a sci-fi family adventure that captures and translates the magic of old with a faithful modern take for current audiences.
After an Earth-based space station that houses multiple colonization ships (including the famed Jupiter-2) suffers a catastrophic incident, the scrappy and intelligent Robinson family finds themselves on the opposite end of a wormhole – stranded on a hostile planet in uncharted space. While encountering new survivors such as the manipulative Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) and hot-shot con artist Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), the Robinson family puts out fire after fire just to survive, but the biggest threat may be one closest to them – the mysterious alien robot that saved young Will’s life after the crash.
What really makes the gears of this new Lost in Space work is the Robinson family themselves and the actors that portray them. Each family member is written as complex, intelligent and strong while all being very distinct and different personalities with great chemistry between them. John Robinson (Toby Stephens) is the stoic and protective Navy Seal dad with a big heart who serves as the rugged anti-thesis of his wife Maureen (Molly Parker) the brilliant, poised matriarch charged with raising the family while John served his country prior to their adventure into space. The actors are great anchors and a wonderful pair to root for as the family deals with crisis after crisis.
Teen and child actors are always a risky business when it comes to live action storytelling, but Lost in Space avoids those traps with some truly talented young performers. The Robinson kids are great and the snarky middle child Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall) is probably my personal favorite, providing moments of levity that mirror that audience’s feelings. Penny does get bogged down with a fairly lame teen crush story line around mid-season, but Sundwall sells everything so wonderfully that even those moments are still entertaining to watch.
Judy Robinson (Taylor Russell) gets a slight re-imagining as the eldest and adopted child of African-American descent, that surprisingly takes more after their adopted mom than Maureen’s biological children. Judy is brilliant, tough as nails with a no-nonsense icy demeanor, but evolves as each trial asks her to adapt. Lastly, Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) has the biggest hurdles to leap due to his relationship with the robot as a constant series focus. Will’s character can dangerously border on The Phantom Menace‘s annoyingly precocious Anakin Skywalker, but Jenkins reins it in most of the time and the writing gives Will and the robot a touch of an Iron Giant-like relationship that evolves throughout the first season to interesting places, allowing Will to continue to be a likable character that grows with each lesson.
The Robinsons themselves are certainly the focus of the show, and their varying personalities and extreme intelligence will quickly endear audiences to the characters – but it’s most likely the supporting cast that will keep audiences binge watching all 10 episodes. In a brilliant bit of gender-bending casting genius, Parker Posey oozes onscreen as the iconic character known for scenery chewing: Dr. Smith. Posey is absolutely terrific as her character’s back story is slowly revealed and she stops at nothing to ensure her own survival while playing everyone around her. Posey has made a career playing these types of unhinged, manipulative characters and she’s a sleazy blast to watch that you can’t take your eyes off.
This wouldn’t be a full review of the series without addressing the robot in the room – yes, the most pop-culture accessible of the original Lost in Space franchise is the robot and his often quoted catch phrase, “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger.” I admit to not being a big fan of the physical appearance of the Netflix series’ complete re-design of the character – it’s a bit clunky and looks like mix of a Halo soldier and The Guyver. But I found the design choice easy to forgive when seeing how the robot fits into this new narrative and the role he plays among the Robinsons. The mystery of the robot and how he fits into the overall plot slowly rolls out throughout the season and is the core element that drives the show and works more than it fails.
Fan favorite director of many beloved Game of Thrones episodes Neil Marshall helms the pilot episode and a handful more, and his talents lend to a lush, cinematic feel for the entire series. This new Lost in Space is a character-driven family adventure/drama that uses sci-fi as a backdrop and not as a spectacle. There are tons of great shots, like an off-road vehicle careening near a cliff that overlooks plumes of gas geysers in a valley, or simple things like twilight on the uncharted planet while using multiple color palettes per episode, creating a visually lush experience for the entire run.
Lost in Space also doesn’t cater to any specific demographic. Rather than water it down to be a “safe for all ages” family romp, the show can get a bit dark and intense – it’s still safe for all ages, but probably best suited for pre-teens and up. There are still plenty of moments of clean adventure and childish humor, but Lost in Space is telling a family’s story, warts and all.
The series has so much to enjoy, yet there are elements to nitpick, but nothing that really detracts much from the show’s overall enjoyment factor. As mentioned early, there’s a bit of YA romance stuff sprinkled in that doesn’t work very well, along with a few hokey moments here and there, and some supporting characters that get introduced aren’t nearly as well-developed and interesting as the Robinson family – but with the already large lead cast, it’s probably for the best. Lastly, many of the early story beats with the robot can feel a bit rehashed from other “kid and his pet monster” stories, resulting in moments audiences will feel like they’ve seen many times before.
Lost in Space is set to defy convention by being the exception to the “all reboots are bad” argument, providing a rich, layered family adventure with real tension and drama, and a warm-hearted center set against a gorgeous sci-fi backdrop. Hopefully the series is a bona-fide hit for Netflix, because there’s plenty of space left to explore and you can sign me up immediately for another round of danger and adventure with the Robinsons.
The entire first season of Lost in Space launches globally on Netflix on Friday, April 13.