When I was very young in the early 70s, I remember coming home after school and watching afternoon TV, a lot of syndicated shows from the 60s. One of those shows was the original Star Trek, in the early years of its syndication run that would pull it out of oblivion and eventually turn it into a major franchise.
But there was another show, which for my five to seven year old self, was just as thrilling as Star Trek, if actually not more so: Lost in Space. While Star Trek has aged relatively well (particularly after its 2006 visual remastering), Lost in Space hasn’t at all. We’re not talking special effects or production values here, but the overall intelligence of the stories, which probably never worked for anyone but very young kids.
When I tried to re-watch it a few years ago, the early parts of the first season weren’t too bad (with allowance for 1960s limitations), but the later parts and subsequent seasons were unwatchable. It quickly became apparent that attempting to watch them as an adult would just sully my childhood memories.
There was an attempted revival in the late 90s with a theatrical movie, which I remember enjoying, but it was universally reviled. A lot of people at the time actually seemed to miss the “campy charm” of the original series.
But the new Netflex remake, which just released its second season, seems to be faring far better. I find that it actually manages to capture the spirit of the original show without falling too far into its cartoonish nature.
It does this by reimagining the original premise. Of course, the original show was itself probably a reimagining of the old comic book series: Space Family Robinson (although the lineage is unclear), which was itself obviously a reimagining of the classic Swiss Family Robinson from 1812. So there’s plenty of precedent here.
The new show modernizes family roles, with the females on an equal footing now with the males, with Maureen, the wife, actually now the mission commander. (The old show had portrayed everyone in very traditional roles.) But the moral lessons and family values aspect so traditional to Family Robinson stories are still there. And the overall feel of the show is pretty life affirming, with a theme that, while they may make tragic mistakes, people are generally good.
One thing the show does particularly well is in making the villain, Doctor Smith, work in a believable manner. Even as a kid, I wondered what was wrong with the Robinson’s, why they couldn’t see Smith for the skunk he obviously was. In the new show, Smith, now a woman, manages to convincingly sit on the boundary. She is capable of utter cringe inducing villainy, but also selfless heroics, and, particularly in the new season, has very sympathetic moments.
The show does continue the Lost in Space tradition of having a very loose relation with scientific reality, although it’s not really any worse than most TV space shows. (It certainly isn’t any worse that The Mandalorian, which I’m also enjoying, but as typical Star Wars fantasy.) Unlike Star Wars, this show idealizes science and mathematics, even if it mixes in a little magic here and there, such as Will Robinson’s apparently paranormal connection to the (now alien) robot.
The show also continues the Family Robinson tradition of having the family face more novel and dangerous situations than could realistically show up anywhere. No opportunity is lost for the characters to experience danger. This is particularly noticeable when binging through the episodes as I did.
On the other hand, the production values are excellent and the show is a lot of fun. As I noted above, it does manage to capture the spirit of the original, a mix of wonder, such as large inscrutable alien installations, with the dread of various alien monsters. All countered by the spirit of people working together.
Well worth checking out if space adventure is your cup of tea. Although be forewarned, like the first season, the second one ends on a cliffhanger.