We finally live in a world that can provide Lost in Space with the aesthetics it always deserved, but can the family dynamics be translated into something palitible for a twenty-first century audience? We explore in detail.
Not that the original 1960’s version of Lost in Space wasn’t fantastic for what it was. The hilariously hand crafted sets and outrageous costumes added to its overall charm. Some might even say those things made the show. But if you’re sending a family of space explorers out into the universe, the visuals and special effects should probably reflect something equally as grand. Especially if you want that show to thrive with modern audiences in such a competitive environment.
That being said, one of the concerns I had going into the new Lost in Space was that the series might get distracted by the synthetic elements the show has to offer. I wasn’t looking for another Gravity or Alien to set my measuring stick by. Meaning that I would have been incredibly disappointed if CGI started to replace the emotional underbelly of the show. Luckily the new Lost in Space seems to avoid that.
First and foremost Lost in Space is a show driven by family dynamics. Every now and then there is a flashy light or big explosion that seems a little ridiculous if you think about it too hard. But ultimately each one of those creative choices are inserted to create conflict for the Robinsons to work off of. Sometimes it’s a harder sell than others and it only veers off slightly on a couple occasions. But once the human aspects are triggered, you‘re grounded back into reality once again.
During promotion for the show we learned that the Robinson family was going to be depicted in a more ‘realistic light.’ Meaning that John and Maureen Robinson’s marriage wouldn’t be the picturesque example of domestic bliss that it once was. One of the factors putting a strain on their marriage is the fact that the Robinson’s are a military family.
John’s service has kept him away from the family for an extended amount of time and Maureen has essentially been raising the kids as a single mother. We’re never given specifics as to what exactly had them separated for so long, but it’s clear that a war torn and environmentally unstable Earth has kept him away from his family much longer than any of them anticipated.
As interesting as the marital conflict is, it falls a little flat compared to the turmoil that gets stirred up within the kids. It’s John’s absence from his three children that causes the most introspection and long term character growth within the series. Which brings us to Judy, Penny, and Will Robinson. Each of the three kids acts differently to the absence of their father. Torn between their own sense of duty and just missing their Dad; conflict manifests itself in different ways for each one.
Judy over achieves, Penny escapes, and Will pretends to not let it bother him as much as it does. This underlying distress between the family leads to the most interesting elements the show has to offer. Which means Netflix owes a lot to the younger actors on this show. Being able to emote or deliver a line in a way that can stand up against the likes of Molly Parker, Parker Posey, and Toby Stephens… It’s not an easy task. But Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, and Maxwell Jenkins pull it off effortlessly.
Russell somehow manages to ground Judy in a way that makes her kindness and super genius believable yet not obnoxious. Sundwall finally gives the Penny character everything I knew she had inside her all along, a quick witted spirit and classic middle child frustration. Lastly there is Maxwell Jenkins playing the iconic Will Robinson.
Jenkins had particularly big shoes to fill seeing as almost all of the original Lost in Space was carried on Will’s shoulders. In this reboot however, everything is distributed more evenly so one character isn’t having to do more work than the other. Not to say that Jenkins couldn’t carry a show on his own. But an eleven year old boy probably shouldn’t be the smartest person on a planet. Even a mostly uninhabited fictional one.
Lost in Space still manages to give Will his proper due. One of the nicest things about the reboot is how much respect Will is given. The adults don’t talk down to him or try to undercut his intelligence simply because he’s a kid. He’s a valued and respected crew member, even if it’s known that he still requires a certain level of protection and shelter. That dichotomy plays out nicely through the whole season.
The only person more important to Lost in Space than Will Robinson would be Dr. Zachary Smith. Netflix knew going in that they would have to think hard about who would be taking on this pivotal role and executive producer Kevin Burns knew going in that he wanted to cast a woman in the role – to eliminate as much comparison as possible. This decision turned out to be a stroke of genius.
Just as I can’t imagine anyone other than Jonathan Harris playing the 1960’s version of Lost in Space, I already have trouble picturing anyone replacing Parker Posey. Within the first three episodes she completely remakes the role and puts her own spin on every jester, behavior, and look. Yet at the same time she’s remarkably been able to infuse the new Dr Smith with every strange counter-intuitive quirk that we remember from the past.
Jonathan Harris almost single handedly made Dr Smith into what we remember him as. A self interested yet lovable, greedy, campy, goofy, mess. And although Posey doesn’t superimpose every one of those elements onto her new character, it’s remarkable how many of those traits can be sewn into this new iteration if done with skill. Luckily, Posey is the woman for the job.
Closing out this review by saying that the Lost in Space reboot is ‘fun for the whole family’ feels painfully cliche and unhelpful. That being said, you can’t talk about this show without nothing that it’s clearly family oriented and designed to entertain a whole range of different age groups.
I worry that calling it a ‘family show’ will turn people away. It’s a term that‘s out of fashion these days. Overused and mislabeled it’s come to have either little meaning at all or it represents a pollyannaish time in entertainment. But that’s not the vibe this new Lost in Space gives off. As Netflix modernized the show, they also elevated what we should expect from a ‘family show.’