The thing is… we’ve done this before.
You might have grown up on the exceptionally pale original Lost in Space which aired from 1965 – 1968. You might have watched the reruns. Maybe you’re watching the reruns in anticipation of the April 13th debut of the reboot.
Or maybe you were one of the 12 people to watch the 1998 retelling (starring Joey Tribbiani).
I imagine these comparisons are quite tiring for the producers and writers, but given the state of reboots these days, it’s worth asking (no offense, The Rock, but Baywatch wasn’t your best work).
So it’s fair if you’re wandering if yet another reboot is worth your time and effort. We know the story: the Robinsons are on route to colonize (sidebar for sci-fi writers: you should really come up with another word for this; I will mail you my thesaurus) a scouted and inhabitable planet are thrown wildly off course and must fend for themselves if they hope to survive. It’s a conflict we’ve been seeing since 7th grade English class, so is this humans against nature tale do more than just go through the motions?
Full disclosure: I will watch almost anything set in space. Star Trek has my heart, but Star Wars, Firefly, Aliens (all of them), Space Balls, Interstellar, Contact… it honestly doesn’t matter, I’ll watch it. But I know when I’m watching a show because it’s set in space versus when I’m watching a show because it’s good. Make no mistake: Lost in Space is good.
There are a lot of reasons why this iteration works. First, production value. While there are times during original when it looks like the Robinsons are betting their lives on aluminum foil and hope, it looks like Netflix has spared no expense.
The robot? [runs in circle] Whew boy! The. Robot. The robot is impressive in a way I didn’t expect from a non-theatrical release. Its movements and its face, in particular, are disarming. It’s not uncanny valley because it is so obviously a robot but it’s fighting with Wall-E for the mechanized barely verbal champion of my heart. (Skip to about 1:00 to see the robot or treat yourself and watch the whole trailer)
But since the show hinges on being invested in the Robinsons’ survival, let’s talk about the family. Tolstoy wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” One thing the reboot did absolutely right was adding the right bot of complication to the Robinson family dynamic. Each member is layered and what drew me in more with each episode was the slow reveal, the development of each character.
I found myself impressed by Molly Parker’s portrayal of matriarch Maureen Robinson. Her character is brilliant, but falters when it comes to her family. What is best for them? Whose needs should be prioritized at any given moment? She faces questions that are all too familiar to mothers still in this solar system. Parker communicates her inner conflicts with a truly authentic performance.
Her counterpart, John Robinson (Toby Stephens) embodies the dueling priorities of how do I love and also provide (and protect) them when it’s almost impossible to do both at the same time? There are heartbreaking moments and feel good moments, but– all due credit to the writers–they almost always feel earned.
Penny Robinson (Mina Sundwall) offers comic relief by often voicing the audience’s concerns. She’s not exactly our voice of reason, but sometimes what you really need is a voice of sarcasm and WTF. The counterpart to her is, for me, Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) who I found to be the embodiment of both my fear and my wonder–and sometimes the bravery we don’t know is in us. His is an actual child-like character. Often, [looks at Wesley Crusher] children aren’t children on sci-fi shows if they are lead characters. Will is a child and his relationship with the robot which could have so easily veered into the awfully cheesy territory.
Judy Robinson, played by Taylor Russell, likewise feels like a kid you might reasonably sit next to in an honors class: brilliant, somewhat haunted and crippled by that brilliance, and trying not-as-successfully-as-she-thinks to mask it. It’d feel disingenuous to not address the question of race. The thing is I’m aware that families need not be homogenous, so after seeing the trailers and promo pictures, I had less question about the logistics of her family as I did about the utilitarianism of tokenism.
If I’m honest, I am less and less patience for shows and movies with all white casts. Even if the shows are good. Even if I like the actors. Even if I like the original. Because I’m going to die one day and so I only have so much time to watch television so I’m going to make sure that I see myself in what I make time to watch.
I don’t want to ignore Ignacio Serricchio’s role as Don West. The Argentinian actor is a PoC, too, but [sings in the key of Gina Rodriguez’s Instagram account harmonizing with Nella Larsen’s novels] it is easy to code him as white, white passing, or racially ambiguous. Want to really think of a radical future? Imagine a future where PoCs are more abundant and vital and less tokenized.
Is that to say that it feels very much like tokenism? Yes. Is that to say it’ll stop me from watching it? No. I’ll watch it and I’ll recommend it. I know that Lt. Uhura was the only black woman on Star Trek and yet her presence has meant so much to so many WoC, but that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed that Russell is the only WoC with top billing.
Watch Lost in Space. Come for the familiar and comforting puny earthlings against all odds and stay for the character development and emotional engagement.