So, here’s the thing, all 10 episodes of the first season of Lost in Space are available on Netflix on 13 April 2018. And if you read any reviews that include spoilers before then, you’re doing yourself an injustice. We will say at this stage, that Netflix has done itself proud with this… so here is our completely spoiler-free review (aside of course from what we’ve seen in the trailers).
Most Netflix subscribers probably haven’t even heard of the original Lost in Space, let alone seen any of it. The pioneering sci-fi came from the imagination of Irwin Allen, appeared on black and white TV screens across America in 1965 and ran for three years.
Originally set in the year 1997, Earth is suffering from massive overpopulation. Professor John Robinson, his wife Maureen, their children (Judy, Penny and Will) and Major Don West are selected to travel to the third planet in the Alpha Centauri star system on a ship named the Jupiter 2 to establish a colony so that other Earth people can settle there. However, Dr Zachary Smith, an agent for an enemy government, is sent to sabotage the mission. He’s successful in reprogramming the ship’s robot, but in the process becomes trapped on the ship and because of his excess weight, the ship and all on board become hopelessly lost, landing on an unknown planet, struggling to survive and find a way back home.
Reading that original premise, it’s far easier today to imagine that scenario being shown as a tense drama, especially since sci-fi has taken a welcome step in that direction following the game-changing re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica by Ron Moore in 2004. Since then, we’ve had The Expanse, Star Trek: Discovery and another Netflix show, Altered Carbon.
The first few episodes had a relatively serious tone, but that quickly changed as Jonathan Harris’s over-acting as Dr Zachary Smith gave the show a campy, cartoonish feel, allowing it to compete with the popular series Batman, which was winning by a significant margin in the battle for ratings.
Then came the inevitable attempt at a movie reboot in 1998, directed by Stephen Hopkins. It starred William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson and Matt LeBlanc, with Gary Oldman as Dr Zachary Smith. It’s generally considered to be a disaster – and we’d agree with that review – with a terrible time-travel story incorporated into an already awful plot.
Another attempt was made to bring the concept up to date in 2004, but it never progressed further than a pilot, however, some similarities between ideas tried in that have made their way into this reboot. Thankfully, science fiction is back in fashion. For the very first time since streaming television went en masse, sci-fi is the number one genre… and about time too. Sleeping are the vampires, zombie overkill has predictably bored audiences the world over and studios everywhere are scrambling to find those sci-fi scripts they shelved a few years ago. Long may it last.
And so Netflix has had a crack at Lost in Space… and what it’s done is pretty damn good.
As we mentioned, the basic premise offers all sort of interesting opportunities to interpret one way or another and the quite extensive writing team that includes Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Dracula Untold, Last Witch Hunter) has done just that, while Zack Estrin (Prison Break) serves as showrunner. For example, the all-important role of Dr Smith has been gender-flipped Starbuck-style and is played by the awesome Parker Posey (Superman Returns, Scream 3, Blade: Trinity), the equally iconic role of “Robot” has been replaced with an alien… and there’s some welcome ethnic diversity in the previously all-white Robinson household.
The cast includes Mina Sundwall (Maggie’s Plan, Freeheld), Molly Parker (House of Cards, Deadwood), Max Jenkins (Sense8, Betrayal), Taylor Russell (Falling Skies) and an almost unrecognisable Toby Stephens. Many will remember him for deliciously hamming the role of Bond villain Gustav Graves in Die Another Day. But that’s ancient history and he’s on form, delivering a solid performance – as does absolutely everyone – but more importantly, the best and most natural-sounding American accent by a British actor anyone of us here at MyM have ever heard. Had this been Daniel Craig, dear God, we would’ve switched off after five minutes and said “don’t bother.” Stop playing Americans, Daniel.
Like the little-known 2004 pilot, in this variation, several Jupiter ships carrying different families are being transported by a mother ship – called the Resolute – which ends up being severely damaged and the separate ships disperse in different directions. The Jupiter 2 ends up getting lost in space… along with Jupiter 3, Jupiter 4… Jupiter 34 and so on.
The last time we were this excited by a Netflix sci-fi series it was Altered Carbon and having watched that from start to finish without little more than a bathroom break…we were left feeling disappointed. Holy cow, it looked incredible. It’s arguably the best looking sci-fi since Moore’s BSG, but when the most interesting character in a show is a sentient hotel…this sends a warning signal that the substance ain’t up to the style.
Thankfully, there’s none of that here. Not only does this look great, but it’s well-written, captivating and will leave you scrambling for the remote to skip those few seconds and start the next episode as soon as is humanly possible.
Through flashback, we see how events unfolded on the Resolute that led to the smaller, Jupiter-class landing craft having to perform a hasty evac. But there’s no danger of too much being given away too soon, as each flashback provides just enough information to heighten the drama unfolding in real time. Plus, events from the very first episode continue to have consequences through the whole series.
The official synopsis is this…
Lost in Space is a Netflix Original dramatic and modern reimagining of the classic 1960s 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.
This is not as dark as Battlestar Galactica by any means, or Altered Carbon, or even The Expanse; they are all very much sci-fi noir, but this is intelligently written sci-fi drama with only a very small number of potentially far-fetched plot devices that might break the otherwise immersive connection between screen and viewer. Hey, it’s sci-fi after all and it will appeal to a younger audience just as much as an adult one.
The relationship between Will Robinson and the alien robot quickly draws you in and by episode two at the latest, you already start to care about these characters, which is refreshing. Providing no convenient, Jurassic Park-esque “this is a unix system” annoying-know-it-all/technobabble dialogue starts to creep in, then it will maintain it’s high standard and thankfully there’s no evidence of that happening.
Fingers crossed the success of this series will mean Netflix can up the budget even more, maintain the awesome production design and iron out the wrinkles, few that there are, to give us an even better season two.
Bravo Netflix, you have restored our faith in your production of quality sci-fi.
Here’s the trailer again to whet your appetite.