Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) tells his family that they’re probably lost or something.
Photo: Netflix
io9 ReviewsReviews and critical analyses of fan-favorite movies, TV shows, comics, books, and more.  

Let me preface this review of Netflix’s new Lost in Space series by saying one thing: Whether your father watched the original campy TV series of the ‘60s or saw the critically-panned 1998 movie reboot starring Matt LeBlanc, this is not your daddy’s Lost in Space. Anyone wanting a campy nostalgia-fest about a nuclear family adopting alien monkeys and battling giant spiders, too bad. But those wanting an intriguing scifi family drama should plan on getting Lost.

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When we first meet the Robinsons in the series pilot, they’re playing a harmless game of Go Fish aboard the Jupiter II. However, we soon realize things are amiss. They’re all in their spacesuits, there’s no gravity, and hell has been unleashed right outside their door. Dozens of identical ships are caught in a firestorm, with their colony space station under attack by an unknown threat (which doesn’t stay unknown for long). The Robinsons soon collide with the wreckage and find themselves crashing down onto the planet below. They’re lost, aren’t they?

Well, they may be lost, but they’re not alone. In this version of the story, the Robinsons are part of a colony, and there are plenty of other surviving families on the planet—some you’ll like, others you’ll wish could be pushed out of an airlock. However, the first couple of episodes are the strongest, as they focus entirely on the Robinson family after they crash-land on the planet and are forced to do whatever it takes to survive. It’s terrifying, intense, and unpredictable—with the added bonus of giving us a rapid-fire introduction to this new Robinson family.

The original series gave us 1960s camp and silliness while the movie was full of snarky ‘90s dysfunction, but the Robinsons of the new Lost in Space feel real. Parents Maureen and John Robinson (Deadwood’s Molly Parker and Black Sails’ Toby Stephens) have split up, but in their current situation struggle to present a united front to the kids, who are all dealing with their own problems. For example, daughters Penny (Mina Sundwall) would rather curl up with her books and sarcasm, while Judy (Taylor Russell) is mad that John left the family when they needed him most. Judy and John’s relationship is one of the bigger conflicts, at least early on, although it’s never because he’s not her biological dad. Judy may be Maureen’s kid from a previous marriage, but John Robinson is her father, and it’s a great way to modernize and deepen the family dynamic.

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“Oh, the pain.”
Photo: Netflix

That said, the true standout of the show is Will Robinson, played by Maxwell Jenkins. Throughout the season, Will struggles with feelings of inadequacy. Not only is he unsure he’s earned his place on the mission, he also thinks he isn’t good enough in his father’s eyes. When he comes across an alien robot, he forms a bond with the creature, which is likewise finding its place. The relationship forged between Will and the robot is a key part of the story, driven mostly by the young actor’s performance—since the alien robot’s main form of communication is his face panel, which changes color based on his mood, meaning Jenkins shoulders the burden of making these scenes work by himself. And they do! This could’ve easily misfired, but I felt for this boy and his robot. A lot of the series has been placed on this 12-year-old actor’s shoulders, and I’ve no doubt it’s because the show creators knew they’d found someone who could handle it. This is one of the best performances from a child actor I’ve seen in years.

While Will Robinson shines, however, Lost in Space’s other most iconic character, Dr. Smith (played by Parker Posey), doesn’t. This is not an acting problem—Posey brings her A-game to everything she’s in—it’s the writing. I’m not going to give away Dr. Smith’s origin story, but suffice to say it’s very different from the original series and movie, and it doesn’t mesh with her behavior. She’s often making choices that don’t make sense and require us to fill in a lot of gaps to justify, yet they magically end up working in her favor anyway. And for what end? Not much, really, just your basic run-of-the-mill “I want to live” storyline. This would’ve been okay if we’d gotten more camp, but Posey mostly plays it straight... at least until the very end, which not surprisingly was the moment I started liking her a bit more.

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The new Lost in Space hasn’t gotten nearly as much fanfare as Netflix’s bigger endeavors like Stranger Things, Altered Carbon, or Bright—which is a shame, as it deserves a lot of love and attention. It’s not perfect, mind you. It’s got its stupid moments and filler episodes, and some characters make dumb choices only because the plot needs them to (I’m looking at you, Judy). But it’s a solid new beginning for the Robinson family, and the season ends with a lot of promise for where show is headed. Hopefully Netflix brings back the show for another season, because it seems like they’ve found something special. Lost in Space debuts with all 10 episodes on Netflix April 13.

John (Toby Stephens) and Maureen (Molly Parker) Robison navigate the harsh terrain of marital strife.
Photo: Netflix

Assorted Musings:

  • Given that the show is about a dysfunctional family that heads out on a colony mission with a bunch of other families (and the occasional smuggler) to escape an environmental crisis, this Lost in Space weirdly has a lot in common with the Fox’s 2011 Steven Spielberg-produced show Terra Nova. Except Terra Nova kind of sucked.
  • Maureen Robinson is an intelligent, ferocious, and uncompromising badass, and it’s been far too long since I’ve seen Molly Parker in something worthy of her talents. She and Toby Stephens play excellently off each other—especially during the many moments they’re trapped together and forced to confront their issues. And fans of Black Sails won’t be disappointed with Sexy Daddy Robinson, I assure you.
  • This is a family show, but keep in mind there’s a surgery scene in the pilot that might not be suitable for kids.
  • I’m still on the fence about Don West (Ignacio Serricchio). I like how they turned his character from a pilot into a mechanic and smuggler, which felt more authentic, and his pet chicken was a hoot. But the writers had a hard time figuring out his place in the story—especially given the careful “This is totally not a romance” dance they were doing with Judy, given how the actress is 12 years younger than him.
  • The show is sprinkled with flashbacks that give insight into the Robinsons’ lives before they left Earth for Alpha Centauri, and they’re really well done. At first, the slightly golden tones onscreen make it feel like we’re looking back at an idyllic part of their lives, as they don knit sweaters and exchange Christmas presents. But as time goes on, it starts to feel more like the hues are from the rising pollution affecting the planet, slowly choking them as the world falls into chaos.
  • Even though Dr. Smith wasn’t the best character, changing her from a medical doctor to a therapist was a stroke of genius. But we didn’t get nearly enough Parkey Posey in fashionable futuristic ponchos. If half your season isn’t Parkey Posey donning fashionable futuristic ponchos, something needs to change.

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