Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Spoiler alert: Posey Parker steals the day. The indie film darling and Christopher Guest mockumentary ally (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, among others) plays Dr. Smith on the new Netflix Original series Lost in Space, a remake of the 1965 television show about pioneering space colonizers the Robinson family. Posey’s doctor is a shamelessly scheming therapist and identity thief who finagles her way into situations and tries to undermine the mission and the innocence of boy hero Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) and take command of The Robot, an evil-then-good-then-evil-then “friend, Will Robinson” alien mechanoid. Dr. Smith is an evildoer of snaky means amid a cast of characters who can be virtuous to a tedious fault. Gotta love her.
In a case of seizing on old creative entities, but in a logical and fruitful way, the binge-able new series is based on the Irwin Allen–created original, which was itself a retooled space-age variation on the 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson that also spun off into a 1998 film version, with William Hurt, Gary Oldman, and Heather Graham.
The nutshell plot: The year is 2048, and Earth is in peril. The uncommonly bright and science-handy Robinsons are one of the families selected for the 24th mission on the interstellar spaceship the Resolute, which carries people to new worlds to colonize. Before reaching its destination, the Resolute’s hull is breached, forcing some of the families — including the Robinsons — to evacuate the mother ship in a short-range spacecraft called the Jupiter, which crash lands on a habitable planet. The Robinsons and other evacuees embark on finding a way to return to the orbiting Resolute.
Oddly enough, the nasty anti-heroic appeal of Posey’s character and her on-screen magnetism harks back to the ’60s series — what began as a serious and solid sci-fi show was re-navigated to exploit the popularity of its at least slightly sinister Dr. Smith (played by Jonathan Harris) to garish ends. (The retooling caused a bone of contention with Guy Williams, who played the Robinson family patriarch, as he felt his character was upstaged by Harris. Williams retired to Buenos Aires, where he was extremely popular for portraying El Zorro in the late 1950s and early 1960s TV series Zorro).
Needless to say, one major improvement of the new series is techno-visual. Shot in the natural sweep of Vancouver but elaborately reenvisioned and enhanced in postproduction, the new Lost in Space is a world away from the old series’s black-and-white, funky facsimiles of cosmic life — although that aspect makes for kitschy fun, in retrospect.
While many of the saga’s dramatic elements have been updated, not the least of which is the higher order of intelligence and narrative function of females in the show, it also follows certain familiar genre rules. There is, for instance, the road-movie formula, both in terms of the characters gallivanting around their temporary planet (including a scene with mega-four-wheeled-vehicle racing to the tune of Van Halen’s “Panama”) and the vaster journey of space travels.
The series deftly blends family-friendly elements with bizarre and scary forces, akin to Stranger Things, but is kinder and gentler. In one twist, patriarch John Robinson (Toby Stephens) makes an extra effort to reunite with his clan after long being absent. “Crashing on this planet was the best thing that ever happened,” he says, late in the series. “I got to see my kids again.” Lost in space = found in space.
By the end of season one, all is relatively well and smiley with the Robinson family; there is just a hint of what Will identifies ominously as “danger,” which can only mean that the series has been renewed for a second season. Will Posey continue her manipulative machinations? Will the evil-turned-benevolent Robot save the day? Will Will continue to grow up in public and serve as a moral compass in the family and the universe? Stay tuned.