‘Lost in Space’: A Netflix remake that needs to get lost
Netflix had the opportunity to make a giant leap with the Lost in Space remake. Playing off the campy 60s sci-fi classic, the show promised to offer a 21st century update on Irwin Allen’s atmospheric vision (and the 1998 Matt LeBlanc-starring blockbuster of the same name – although the less said about that shitheap, the better). Swapping cardboard robots for CGI graphics ( the “Danger Will Robinson!” robot looks miles better) and presenting a Robinsons family that gets lost in space in a modern and updated outerspace environment, it’s clear the show has been pushed by a healthy Netflix budget.
In the months leading up to the reboot’s release, we were hopeful. After all, Netflix has invested heavily in diversifying its sci-fi content, and so far it’s paid off – Altered Carbon, Annihilation, Sense8, Okja, and The OA are just a few of the many genre greats to have hit the site’s slate in recent years. The fact this had a strong base, an unhealthy predecessor (shouldn’t be too hard to beat, right?), and a butt-ton of bank made us think perhaps a family-friendly Lost in Space reboot could be a hit.
Oh, how wrong we were.
Character (lack of) progression
The story follows the same premise as the original – set three decades in the future, the Robinsons travel to outerspace to join a group of colonizers heading for new homes because earth has turned to trash. However, when things go awry, the family crashland on an alien planet and are forced to use their wits, strengths, and savvy to survive and escape. Unfortunately for the characters, their wits, strengths, and savvy are not enough to overcome the fact they’re either highly predictable, highly irritating, or both.
While the kids Judy (Taylor Russell), Penny (Mina Sundwall), and Will (Maxwell Jenkins) are all super geniuses, the writing renders them with levels of bravery that walk the line between farfetched heroism and aggressive stupidity (weighing heavily on the latter). Straight into the first episode, the focus was on Judy and her ice capades. It’s baffling that an IQ of Hawking proportions wasn’t enough to help her comprehend that when your dad says the water’s gonna freeze and you’re gonna freaking die, it’s probably not best to get in the water.
Meanwhile, mom Maureen (Molly Parker) sneaks off with a spacesuit and a high-altitude balloon to try and signal the Resolute. But oh no! Her balloon is caught by the wind, which almost drags her off of a cliff before she manages to launch it in the next scene. As The Verge put it, “the show often doesn’t seem to know how to make its characters’ actions and predicaments drive the plot forward, and they make a lot of stupid decisions along the way . . . There may be long-term consequences . . . but the rapid resolutions make both sequences feel like wheel-spinning filler. They lack meaningful impact, and they don’t help develop the characters.”
Another central trait of the Lost in Space concept is to show family dysfunction follows no matter where you go (even beyond the stratosphere). We get that. But the remake almost feels like it totally overwhelms the action that was needed to give the show suspense. Yes, we understand John (Toby Stephens) and Maureen are not the perfect couple and the kids, despite their smarts, also have adolescence to deal with. But the writing severely underserves this plot point, taking out all of the subtlety and leaving in all of the yawns.
When it comes to the wondrous Parker Posey (Superman Returns), she brings her usual edge and skill to Dr. Smith’s character and does what she can with the poorly written role. However, the contrived dialogue renders the character (the best of a bad bunch) as underwhelming. “Posey and Parker, by far the most interesting cast members, are rarely served well by the writing,” noted Variety. Speaking of which . . .
Too many one-liners spoils the show
The Netflix remake did a horrible job at recreating the light comedy of the original. Note to the writers: bombarding viewers with a shower of crappy one-liners is not comedy. Variety pointed out, “those behind this version of Lost in Space seem to think that a genre show aimed at families must be as anodyne and blandly aspirational as possible.”
You cannot breathe from the snarky one-liners, particularly from middle-child syndrome Penny who seems incapable of uttering anything if it doesn’t involve hideous levels of predictable sarcasm. We get it – Penny’s stuck between her older sister who can’t do anything wrong and her younger brother who can’t do anything right (or so the family thinks anyway). But her comments are relentless, to the point where watching the show is like tuning in on someone eating with their mouth open at a canteen. Soon enough it’s all you can hear.
Getting lost in Lost in Space
Had the characters been more watchtable, the show would be forgiven for its simplistic and lagging storytelling. Or vice-versa. Instead we’re given nothing aside from a narrative that meanders around with little purpose, either entering action with a severe lack of tension or dragging it out before offering a less-than-satisfactory resolution. Sure, the idea is there, but it lacks the intrigue and execution. Per Deadline, “It floats about and occasionally finds its way with plot points to serve the end game, but most of the time the series gives us a whole lot of unexciting details to kill time while we get excited to hear the Robot say ‘Danger Will Robinson!’”
It’s not often we zone out of a TV show – particularly one that’s supposedly “action-packed” – but with Lost in Space we couldn’t help but let our minds wander to better things (and better shows). The first episode alone was centered entirely around Judy getting stuck and then released from an ice pool, which dragged for an hour. Perhaps shave 20 minutes from each episode and you’d have a decent family sci-fi. “At their current running times, though,” noted Vox, “the series lags and sags in a way that will leave viewers bored stiff.”
All of this is not to say the show doesn’t have its good points. There are some things to like, from Posey’s intriguing performance to the heartfelt story of the revamped Robot (no longer a goofy addition) and his relationship with Will. As the series progresses, there are some interesting twists, too. However, the bad far outweighs the good and all in all, it’s a real disaster of a remake. A demake if you will. The question we all asked ahead of its release was whether the Lost in Space franchise could finally be brought back after Matt LeBlanc (among others) shit all over it. The answer? No, it definitely could not.