Lost In Space: Season One Review
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Lost In Space has never been high-brow sci-fi. Irwin Allen’s Trek-lite was however always great fun with a cheeky edge - partly in thanks to Jonathan Harris’ excellent Doctor Smith. It was a show with heart, humour and just packed with fun and colour - even in the early black and white episodes.
Fast forward to 2018 and we’re in something of a golden age for sci-fi with the likes of Star Trek back on our screens, The Orville surprising everyone in being excellent while Star Wars is wowing a whole new generation of new fans. It’s a challenging market for anyone to break into, but Netflix clearly saw potential when they gave Lost In Space the green light for a remake.
And, we’re glad they did.
While we’ve previously written a a preview of the series, we’ve now had a chance to watch the remaining episodes and all of those good feelings and intentions that came with the first half of the season remain intact right through to the end.
The premise is familiar - the Earth is undergoing a (seemingly) natural disaster. An asteroid impact has caused widespread damage to the planet threatening to make it uninhabitable within a few generations. A mission to establish a new settlement in Alpha Centauri is launched and The Robinsons are among those chosen to lead the charge and become some of the earliest settlers on a new world.
Unfortunately things don’t quite go to plan and the family find themselves crash landing, along with other colonists, on a strange world nowhere near where they expected to be - maybe in a different galaxy. Over the first season we both find out why they crashed and we get a pretty good idea why they have ended up a very long way from home.
Unlike previous Lost In Space outings, this time around The Robinsons aren’t alone - other than Don West and ‘Dr Smith’ who are both present and nearly correct here - there are other colonists from the ‘Resolute’ who have crash landed on the planet. Not only that, the damaged mothership remains in orbit and it becomes a race against time for the colonists to find their way back off the planet. Unfortunately their prospects are hampered by both the planet’s death spiral towards a black hole and the actions of those on the ground - in particular the calculating Doctor Smith who, we we find out in later episodes, is actually the manipulating con artist June Harris. Our first introduction to her in the series opener sees her steal the real Dr Zachary Smith’s identity. Here the real Dr Smith is played by Bill Mumy - the original Will Robinson in an almost blink and you miss it cameo.
Lost In Space is very much a mystery in the same vein as Lost - as the first season progresses we not only find out more about the planet and the alien ‘robot’ that Will Robinson discovers in the first episode, we also benefit from loads of back story by way of Lost-style flashbacks to the events on earth both before and after the asteroid hit. We discover that Will Robinson didn’t quite make the grade to join the mission, we find out that John Robinson’s relationship with his family is strained after years away in the armed services, we learn a little about both Penny (near perfect casting with Mina Sundwall looking every part the daughter of Molly Parker’s Maureen Robinson) and Judy and we also find out just how June Harris stole her sister’s place on the mission - just the first of her nefarious dealings that sees her come close to stranding every colonist on the unnamed world.
It’s a series that is wonderfully realised - the writing and direction are spot on - Neil Marshall is already well known for his work both in British cinema and in some of the tentpole episodes of Game of Thrones but his work here is just as noteworthy where he not only directs two episodes but also acts as producer. Special shoutouts to Alice Troughton, whose episode The Robinsons Were Here is one of the standouts. Kudos should also be given for the number of women involved in writing episodes in the first season with Vivian Lee, Katherine Collins and Kari Drake deserving loads of credit in particular for their work on the show.
In front of the camera the show is equally well served - Toby Stevens damaged John Robinson is the perfect blend of action hero with a side of hurt, Molly Parker is also amazing in her portrayal of Maureen Robinson, who this time around is not only a mother but also one of the lead scientists on the Alpha Centauri mission. Maxwell Jenkins continues Netflix run in finding brilliant child actors - they certainly learnt a thing or two from Stranger Things; similarly the young medical genius Judy Robinson could be massively precocious if it wasn’t for Taylor Russell’s wonderful portrayal. Mina Sundwall, as mentioned previously, could be Molly Parker’s real daughter but it’s not just her appearance that gives that impression - she’s a fantastic actress too.
Interestingly Ignacio Serricchio’s Don West here feels inspired more by the Matt Leblanc character in the 1998 film rather than the more wholesome Mark Goddard portrayal of the 1965 original. Here West is driven more by money than the good of his fellow planetary castaways he thankfully Serricchio’s take is one which makes him feel more of a Han Solo-eseque scoundrel than someone with really devious intentions.
While much has been made of ‘fans’ dislike of “Dr Smith”, Parker Posey’s performance is actually one of the standouts - able to evoke sympathy for a character who is so twisted and devious that she’d sacrifice herself if it meant scuppering the plans of everyone else. One minute scheming, the next nearly broken, she plays the part on just the right side of insane to make her a very dangerous person. Praise should also be heaped on Raza Jaffrey who manages to make the mission leader Victor Dhar one of the most easily hateable characters we’ve seen in a show - his whole softening and redemption arc is something to behold and in less skilled hands would feel contrived.
Lost In Space ends on a fantastic, series redefining cliffhanger - it might be a show that is happy to dash all hopes just when things are looking up, but it does it with such style that we can forgive this. As the tenth episode ends we’re filled with both a sense of completion and a tantalising dread as to what the Robinsons will have to face - this time without the rest of the colonists to help them along the way.
Lost In Space Season One is streaming on Netflix now.