(Spoilers) Netflix promised a lot of new movies and tv series would be coming in 2018. So far some have been winners (Altered Carbon), some have been good (A Futile and Stupid Gesture), some have been stinkers (The Outsider), and some have been less than promised. Unfortunately, Netflix’s remake of Lost in Space falls firmly in the last category.
The original Lost in Space (1965) was based on the novel The Swiss Family Robinson. Like the characters from the book the original Robinsons went out into space looking for a better future. The remake finds the new Robinsons leaving an earth doomed for some reason (Meteor crash? No blue skies!) to colonize Alpha Centauri (Which, for the record, is a galaxy and not a planet).
When the first episode opens the Robinsons are already in trouble. It’s a pattern that will repeat itself time and time again as season one drags to its ending- The Robinsons get in trouble, the Robinsons get out of trouble, the Robinsons get out of trouble. It’s all manufactured drama to move an otherwise flat and stale series moving along. First it’s the Robinsons’s Jupiter 2 being buried in frozen ice, then it’s John and Maureen being trapped under a transmitter dome (At least they didn’t try to out run the crashing metal tower Prometheus style) followed later by John and Maureen’s chariot (the name they use for a landing craft) being buried in tar.
The biggest and worst manufactured crime is the planet the Robinsons and the rest of the survivors of the Resolute, the spacecraft used to take the colonist into space, crash on. It’s a planet near a black hole. A black hole. Could a planet orbit a black hole long enough for life to evolve beyond single cell organisms? Maybe, but it wouldn’t be anything like the Robinsons’s magical planet. The truth is black holes consume anything unlucky enough to cross its path. Even if a planet could survive around a black hole long the black hole in Lost in Space decides to suck in the Robinson’s planet at the right time to create more drama.
There are a lot of differences between the remake and the original series. The biggest difference is the size of the cast. In the original series the only main cast was the Robinsons and their pilot Don West along with special guest stars playing one and done characters. A larger cast of characters created for the series means only thing: A lot of extras are going to be killed off.
When we see any of the Robinsons in danger there’s a zero percent chance of any harm coming to any of them- Judy Robinson being frozen under ice isn’t a big deal, she’ll be free by the end of the episode. Penny and her friends trapped in a cave full of pterodactyl looking bats attracted to noise, just speak in captions to sneak through the cave. It’s as dumb as it sounds, but none the less showrunners felt the only way to convey what was happening in the scene was through using captions. John and Don’s spaceship blowing up should mean the end of two characters, right? You didn’t really think John and Don died in the exploding Jupiter? Did you?
Most series on television manufacture drama. The series where the drama is allowed to naturally develop are few and far between. These series tend to have longer episodes and are better scripted. You could almost forgive Lost in Space its trespasses, but the drama and action aren’t creative or original. You don’t watch a lot of television, if any, if you couldn’t predict something was going to be attracted to the survivors tower of light or that Don didn’t die when his Jupiter craft falls off a cliff.
If the manufactured drama wasn’t bad enough the series throws Dr. Smith at us. We know from the original Lost in Space Dr. Smith is a liar, a cheat, a saboteur, and a coward. It would have been practically impossible to fool most of the audience into believing the new Dr. Smith was anything different. Instead showrunners created June Harris (Parker Posey). Harris steals the identity from the real Dr. Smith during an attack on the Resolute. All she had to do was take the man’s jacket. Who thought it was a good idea to put a colonist’s credentials in a sleeve jacket? Someone who has never lost a jacket. Harris’s subterfuge lasts an episode longer than needed.
The audience doesn’t need to be convinced Harris is actually Smith. We know Harris’s plan the minute the character is introduced. However, the audience does have to believe the character is pulling something over on the other characters. It takes a great script and good acting to pull this feat off. Lost in Space has neither. Posey, who usually does a much better job, comes off in every scene like someone who is hiding something and is never convincing that she’s an actual doctor. If this were reality someone would have called her out for lying long before Don discovers the real Dr. Smith’s ID. Posey isn’t convincing as someone who is pulling a con.
Netflix hasn’t delivered an adventure series. It hasn’t even delivered a series about a family sticking together through thick and thin. What Netflix has delivered is a ho hum family drama with a large special fx budget. It’s a shame with a cast as solid as the one in Lost in Space something better didn’t find its way onto the screen.
(On the bright side: Oreos, Crown Royal, and the war in Afghanistan are still a thing in the future)