I never watched the original Lost in Space.
Except for about five minutes, after watching the new Netflix reboot, because I just got so curious. I was rewarded with the endearing hilarity of watching a man pretend to be on a spacewalk, but without our modern day special effects and gear that make it look at least somewhat real.
That said, I can’t compare the new series to the 1960’s black-and-white show. I can just say that I loved the new show, for many reasons. Some may say it’s a little over-the-top at times, or too obviously chocked full of modern-day representation and drama. For instance, the family depicted in the show has a strong mother, an absent father trying to reconnect with his wife and kids, and a biracial daughter from a previous marriage — all things that feel very current, in a world that now celebrates all kinds of family structures. But despite any cheesiness or melodrama, this space romp was incredibly refreshing to me, because it’s so different than any other sci-fi drama I’ve watched so far.
Here are some reasons I enjoyed it so much, and why I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in these things!
What makes Lost in Space immediately different than other science fiction is its focus on family. The story is about the Robinsons, who were aboard a colony ship to escape a dying Earth and start a new life on a new planet. The show’s tagline and favorite family motto seems to be “The Robinsons stick together.”
The mother Maureen (Molly Parker, who is terrific) is the leader of the family, a scientist who had the idea to leave Earth in the first place. I love her combination of intelligence and compassion. Dad John (Toby Stephens) is much more gruff, and he’s spent so much time away from his family in the military that he now has to find a way to be close to his wife and kids again. (In fact, Maureen may not have wanted him to come to the new planet at all.)
The kids are the best part of the show. The youngest, Will, is curious but timid. When he’s left alone in the wilderness, he comes across a robot and saves it. The robot is immediately bonded with Will from this event, following him around, helping him when he needs it (even saving his sister from death), and protecting him from danger. While I thought actor Maxwell Jenkins was really talented in the show, he’s mostly there to serve bigger stories — such as his dad trying to reconnect with him, and bringing the robot into the family. His youth also makes him the most gullible in the group, which creates some suspense when you realize he’s going to fall for sweet talk by the show’s resident villain. (I cringed a lot. Poor kid.)
My favorite characters (perhaps besides mom Maureen) are teenage half-sisters Judy (Taylor Russell) and Penny (Mina Sundwall). Judy, a daughter from Maureen’s previous relationship, is a nerdy 18-year-old doctor who actually plays like a real 18-year-old — just becoming an adult, very smart, heroic, but also still just a teenager at the end of the day. And Penny is the comic relief of the show. Sarcastic, an avid reader, and perhaps the most adventurous in the group, she’ll disobey rules if it means saving her family — even when her older, more serious sister tells her not to.
One thing I noticed right away about this show is that the dialogue felt very realistic to me.
Maybe I just haven’t watched a teen show in awhile — or maybe I’ve been watching the wrong ones. But I’m used to teens who either talk like they’re in their 30’s, or who are victims of obviously scripted “teen melodrama” dialogue that just doesn’t ring true.
But Judy and Penny talk like real teenagers. They make jokes, talk about Oreos, discuss their strengths (reading for Penny, medical knowledge for Judy) in a way that shows they are smart despite their youth. I appreciate that they’re not underestimated, yet they still have moments when they crack jokes at inappropriate times. When things don’t go their way, they show frustration, or sigh and change tactics — and it all feels real to me.
The family dynamics are so much fun to follow, too. I loved the tension between Maureen and John, who at first step on each other’s toes as they figure out who’s in charge and where each of them fits. This is especially true of John, who’s returning to the family after being away. But later, the two of them have cheesy, romantic scenes as they reconnect, reminiscing about their early years as parents together and, at times, almost lose each other. Their willingness to sacrifice for their kids is inspiring. Sure, the scenes may play a little cheesy sometimes, but I love sentimentality and wish more shows had this kind of sweetness to them!
I also loved that John and Maureen worry about their children while also treating them like adults. At 18, Judy technically is, and Penny is old enough to make smart decisions. They had to pass a lot of rigorous tests to be chosen for the colony ship, so the entire family is incredibly intelligent — and Maureen has obviously brought them up to be capable and independent.
By the end of the series, I felt like I could predict what each family member would say in different situations. Not precisely, of course — but close enough. For example, there’s a great flashback scene of Maureen with the kids, discussing the idea of moving to a new planet. The points that each of them bring up — Will mentioning blue skies, Penny mentioning leaving her friends on Earth, Judy making practical assessments — is just so in-character. That’s what I loved most about this show: how well-developed this family is, and how each member brings something unique to the structure.
While Lost in Space has scary robots, it’s really a show about survival. The Robinsons’ ship crashes on a planet very far from their destination world, as do several other ships of colonists. From the very first episode, they have to figure out how to survive in this alien landscape, where temperatures plummet to uninhabitable levels at night, and the climate change is happening much too rapidly to make any sense if this is a normal planet orbiting a normal star.
Normally I’m not big on two genres: post-apocalyptic and survival. That’s because I love world-building. I love seeing fictional societies and how other worlds could run. But with Lost in Space, the originality of a family surviving together made this genre so much more intriguing to me. And sure, the family just runs into one problem after another — but hey, that’s what it’s like to be in a new planet with limited supplies and almost no idea where you are or how you got there. There was a lot of tension throughout the show, whether it was Judy stuck in ice with no way out, or going on a dangerous fuel run to see if they can get a ship off the planet.
Parker Posey also plays the villain Dr. Smith, who lies to get onboard the colony ship and then continues lying to survive. Knowing her true criminal side of the story, even as members of the community believe she really is a psychiatrist, creates most of the suspense in many of the episodes. She adds another dimension to the survival drama that I really enjoyed.
Although completely different in tone and experience, Lost in Space made me remember another family-centric space drama: the comic series Saga. I think the show will appeal to people who appreciate the family dynamics being at the heart of the story.