Netflix’s Lost in Space (LiS), the re-imagining of the 60s TV series, follows the Robinson family on a disastrous colonisation mission to a new planet to escape a dying Earth. The first seasons garnered favourable reviews, and the hotly anticipated second season starts December 24th on Netflix. If you haven’t already binged on Season One, here’s five great reasons why you should add it to your watch list.
Danger, Will Robinson: Minor Spoiler Alert for elements of season one (nothing too big though).
1 – Real feel Sci-Fi
If you’re familiar with the original series you’ll remember a decidedly low-budget original-series-Star Trek vibe (only even more tin-foil and even cardboardier sets). Netflix decided not to bring this part back though and pumped a significant budget into the show. This gives LiS an almost cinematic feeling with a large cast and some breathtaking location shooting. Most of season one takes place on a planet that’s fairly earth-like, however the use of digital effects cleverly adjusts the landscape; turning forests, open plains and snowy glacial mountains into glorious alien vistas that take it one-remove from Earth.
The Robinson’s ship, the Jupiter 2, and the vast majority of technology on display through the series feels like something that might actually exist in the near future, or even could exist now with the right funding. The ship itself isn’t huge, something like a spacefaring family home, complete with the family SUV in the garage! Much like the Millenium Falcon, the Jupiter 2 feels very solid, it’s small enough to be a thing parked next to the actors, but big enough for interior scenes that don’t feel too cramped. Inside it’s a familiar-feeling open-plan space that’s centered around a circular room. There’s plenty of greebly panels and vents on the walls, it looks very… real, for want of a better word. When we get to see Maureen strip down the engines, there’s not a laserwelder, sonic-decoupler or isometric-pulse-spanner in sight; it’s reminiscent of Whedon’s Firefly, where Kayley is shown actually tinkering on the engine with real tools and smudged with grease and the inside of Serenity looks more like a fishing trawler than a spaceship.
There are plenty of brilliant visuals, the Resolute (the large colony ship that seems to essentially be a big FTL engine that the smaller Jupiters attach to for the trip) shares the genetic lineage of everything from Kubrick’s take on 2001 right through to Interstellar, a big complex space machine. Other than that, the sci-fi is fairly localised to leave room for the characters and plot to take centre stage.
2 – The Modern Family
Lost in Space is, at heart, a show about family. Back in the 60s that was a clean cut, corn fed white American family. The biggest interpersonal family issue they faced was the scheming Dr. Smith and the wilful young Will Robinson (played by Bill Mumy, who played a bit part in this new Lost in Space) repeatedly getting into mischief.
The world has moved on and the modern family dynamic is far more interesting and inclusive. The Robinson’s now struggle with an absentee father, an overachieving mother and an insecure youngest child. That’s before we start to consider their relationships with the other colonists also stranded on this mysterious planet. Outside the biologically related Robinsons there are several members of an extended family that comes to include some of the other colonists (notably Don West and Dr. Smith), and of course the Robot.
The most stable of all the Robinsons are the two daughters, Penny and Judy. Penny is the awkward middle child, caught between a high-achiever eldest (Judy) and the coddled insecure youngest (Will). Judy starts strong but nearly dies early on, which significantly shakes her confidence and leaves her with PTSD; dealing with that and finding ways to integrate her experiences into her life is a significant part of her story. Penny seems goofy and self-centred at first but rapidly steps up after the crash, revealing a witty soft side that steals several scenes. Her fumbling teenage romance with pretty much the only eligible partner on the planet is heartfelt and painful, and will be very familiar to many viewers. Young Will Robinson struggles the most with his identity and place in the family, muddied (and aided) by sudden responsibility for, and to, the alien Robot.
Maureen and John Robinson are fascinating explorations of adulting. Through flashbacks we see a troubled marriage; John is a dedicated soldier in a world on the brink of collapse and away more than he’s home. Maureen is single minded in her pursuit of taking the family to the colony world, where they will have the opportunity for better lives. She’s some sort of chief engineer on the colonisation project, and it’s clear that she holds everyone to exceptionally high standards; even herself. When the mission goes awry it’s clear that both John and Maureen are highly skilled, dedicated and smart people – yet they struggle to work together and find it hard to articulate themselves to their kids. There’s something innately likeable about them both, they’re different people, yet it’s easy to see why they fell in love in the first place.
3 – Representation
Lost in Space steps up to the plate with fairly diverse casting. While the core cast is still pretty white, it’s at least not completely white, and that’s an improvement. The supporting cast (the other colonists) is a pleasant mix of cultures, languages and people from the home planet.
With a reassuringly solid hand Netflix put Maureen Robinson front and centre as the head of the family. The family dynamic tends to rotate John and Maureen depending on the situation. It feels pretty natural; Maureen tends to step back when the situation turns to something more military-ish, and John tends to step back when it’s anything else. They butt heads when the situation blurs between the two, which is pretty often, but the vibe here is of two very capable, caring people just trying to figure out the best way to survive.
Notably ‘Dr. Smith’ is played by Parker Posey and her sociopathic take on Smith is compelling since it’s a more subtle version of that we’ve seen before. In the two previous versions of LiS (1965-8 and 1998) Smith is more obviously villainous and flamboyantly dramatic, though Gary Oldman’s Smith in the 1998 film toned that down in favour of exuding snakelike malice.
Unfortunately LGBTQ+ viewers will probably feel rightly annoyed that there wasn’t anyone obviously on-screen that identified as anything other than cis-straight. It wouldn’t have changed the plot at all if Vijay Dhar (Penny’s romantic interest) had been female and it would have been a pleasant nod in the direction of an under-represented slice of the sci-fi fanclub. Even just adjusting one of the ‘family’ couples we see in the colony groups for same-sex couples would have been something. Of course it’s not too late, assuming the Robinsons aren’t going to be the only humans in season two there’s still time to be a bit more inclusive.
4: Deception, duplicity, intrigue, secrets and drama
For those that like their sci-fi to generally be about more than spaceships and robots (almost everyone, then, I assume) LiS isn’t lacking intrigue and drama: Dr. Smith is predictably always trying to pull some scam or other, and it’s remarkable how she manages to wiggle from one scam to the next. Given the opportunity at a clean start after the crash, she can’t resist falling back into her old ways almost instantly.
Smith isn’t the only one with secrets though. The core concept of the show is based around the Resolute being able to travel faster-than-light; there’s a mystery there to unravel since humanity hasn’t yet cracked that science! Maureen has a secret that’s eating at her too. She made a shady deal to get her family on the colony mission; it’s unclear exactly what deal she made, or with who, but it was definitely dodgy. John’s secret is revealed fairly early on and is part of the reason he and Maureen are estranged. For him, it’s more about consequences and mending fences. Later a terrible truth about the planet they’ve crashed on becomes clear, and the decision of who to tell, if anyone, brings up some interesting points about whether you should tell people the truth, even if it’s terrible and they can’t do anything about it.
On top of that there is the glorious secret of the Robot. John is immediately distrustful of the alien machine and strongly believes that if the other colonists knew, it would cause problems. Eventually the terrible truth about the Robot becomes known, but the Robot is proving to be a valuable asset by this point, and Will seems to have formed a deep attachment.
In any group of people there are going to be differing opinions. It’s tough enough when Maureen and John disagree about what to do, but when the other colonists get involved the drama cranks up a notch. The colony leader Victor Dhar is apparently a born bureaucrat, but he commands the respect and loyalty of the majority of the crash survivors, he and the Robinsons clash more than once – and it’s hard not to wonder if the Robinsons would have done better alone…
Added to the interpersonal drama there is, of course, the wider context that the whole series is essentially about survivors of a space-wreck trying to stay alive on a hostile planet.
5: Adventure and survival
The Jupiter 2 is a tough little ship, loaded with everything a colonist group could need to live as they make a home on a new colony planet. That’s fortunate, because pretty much the first thing it does is crash on an icy mountain, then sink into a lake which then freezes solid – and that’s only the start of the Robinsons’ troubles.
The Robinson family started off pretty skilled, then went through an extended period of training before the mission to make each member into the human equivalent of a Swiss army knife. All this training means that the family are geared for a fairly rugged life on the new colony planet, and handily the majority of their skills are also really useful if you crash-land on an alien planet!
Pretty much every episode features the Robinsons or other crash survivors having to solve problems that arise from their situation. Some are directly related to the crash (i.e. the inability to contact the Resolute for some reason), and others spring from the alien planet itself (ice sheets, diamond rain, unstable ground, tar pits, etc.), and a few come from the colonists themselves (sabotage, mistakes, temporary insanity, etc.). All in all, it’s a pretty rough few days for the Robinsons, and it looks like Season Two might turn that particular dial up to eleven.
Fortunately, if you’re going to get stranded anywhere with anyone, you’d want it to be the Robinson family. If the thing they need to survive doesn’t exit, they’ll build it. If it seems impossible, they’ll come up with another solution, then build that. If you think nothing could get any worse, you’re wrong, but that’s fine because the Robinsons are here to help out!
Watch Lost in Space Season Two on Netflix from the 24th December!