A reboot is a tricky thing to manage. You have to have the right amount of ingredients: novelty, respect, and present-day relevance that doesn’t sacrifice the efforts of the creative work that went before.
Netflix has done that with its new series and reboot of Lost in Space.
Premiering on April 13th, Lost in Space embraces these reboot challenges with the same daring bravado of the cast in this pulse-pounding revisit of the classic 1960’s show created by Irwin Allen.
In terms of what’s novel, the premise has changed somewhat slightly. In the original, the colonization of space by families selected by the Space Corps was a glamourous, voluntary option that had prestige and status. In the 21st century reboot, Earth is wracked by pollution, necessitating the expansion into space to find a new home for Earth’s population.
Moreover, in this new series, the Robinson Family is also far from the perfect, paternal-centric one that was seen portrayed by the brilliant and famous Professor Robinson, the ideal wife and mother Mrs. Robinson, and their brilliant and confident offspring. Guy Williams and June Lockhart were cast because they represented the best family role-models that America wanted to show, and to see, in the 1960’s.
Netflix’s Lost in Space sees the role of John Robinson played by Toby Stephens (Black Sails), a career marine who is part of the colonization program only to be with wife and kids. Molly Parker (House of Cards) is the brilliant scientist, Maureen Robinson who sees the program as a way of keeping their family whole as well as finding a better life for their children.
Their kids are self-willed, disobedient, genius free-thinkers who have their own insecurities. The modern production features a Judy, Penny and Will (respectively and successfully played by Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall and Max Jenkins) who are fiercely loyal to each other, and while that love of their family is still at heart the appeal of this show, their faults and shortcomings make them realistic and more believable than the perfectly coiffed children who always listened to their parents we saw in the Irwin Allen production. They were a message to America’s youth back then: listening to your parents will give you the stars. In this show, the message to kids is different: love, be bold and be yourself.
The show is a sleeker, streamlined version of Irwin Allen’s vision of sending a family into space to colonize but the authentic-looking technology, the attitudes and the family dynamics are more in tune with the 21st century.
What’s different is the gender change of the comedic relief of the sinister Dr. Smith, played by the charismatic Parker Posey. Also, instead of the Terran-engineered Robot we remember from the original Jupiter 2, this time the robot is a sentient alien artificial life-form who bonds with the young Will Robinson from the get-go.
Also, absent in the beginning of the series is the role of pilot, Major Don West of the United States Space Corps. While we haven’t been properly introduced to his rebooted replacement yet, we will see that an updated version of West will appear but we’ll see how he’ll manifest.
John Robinson is also different. Not the scientific genius his predecessor was, this John Robinson is a soldier. He is the one his family looks to make the hard calls, but Robinson also knows when to acquiesce to the superior scientific knowledge of his genius family. His wife, Maureen, is the resident family scientific leader who represents every feature a working mother would want to emulate: brilliant, successful, beautiful and a fully loving mother, Maureen Robinson, played by Molly Parker, is dynamically different from June Lockhart’s passive presentation of the character.
Despite all their talents and gifts, the colonization of space is not the carefree jaunt it appeared to be for the Robinsons of the original series. From the first episode of this reboot we can see that nothing will be easy for the Robinson Family. Even the reason for leaving the colony Ship, The Resolute, in the Jupiter 2 Pod is because of a cataclysmic event that sends them careening off-course to crash-land on a mysterious planet. After that, it’s one disaster to the next, which is exciting and keeps the audience off-balance and eagerly awaiting what comes next. It’s an exciting pace and certainly different from the previous incarnation of the show.
But the respect for the original show is there too. The host of Space Channel’s Innerspace, Ajay Fry, and I immediately looked at each other at a couple of times during the show, recognizing what elements fans of the original series would appreciate; think robot and, watch who Parker Posey accosts towards the end of the episode to see what I mean. These were those excited moments that demonstrated the writers were completely aware of the homage they needed to pay to this iconic 60’s sci-fi classic.
Watching the episode with astronaut Chris Hadfield and lead actress, Molly Parker at the Ontario Place Cinesphere this week was definitely a bonus that added a degree of modern day relevance to the event. As Hadfield put it, “The actors … people I fantasized about being some day, and there they were: they were in a spaceship and there were doctors and robots and amazingly enough, and those have come true. In my life, I’ve flown in spaceships and lived off the planet and worked with robots and so one of the beauties of this is that it helps you imagine what you can be. I’m really excited to watch this pilot tonight.”
Having an astronaut compare the experiences of the actors on this show to the sort of work he did in orbit around our planet added a degree of authenticity to the watching the show that made the audience of 500 to 600 Toronto District School Board students think about what space could be like.
All in all, this is a show that promises a great deal of entertainment for the two different generations who will be watching it. But there are the two audiences a reboot has to manage successfully for it to succeed: the new fans who want something that fits within their present-day television audience’s perspective and the older ones who also want to be entertained, but also want the acknowledgement of the shared history of the show in their lives.
Netflix has certainly managed both of those hurdles with a navigational deftness that reveals true insight into preserving the integral value of the original series. However, there is also a measured and thoughtful boldness of which new waters to voyage into. It’s a winning show with all the right elements for this reboot to succeed in its own right as a new Netflix Original.
I can’t wait to get lost in space.