Getting lost never felt so good.
This is a SPOILER-FREE review of the Lost in Space “Pilot” that premiered at WonderCon 2018. The series will be available on Netflix on April 13th.
Netflix’s Lost in Space is a dazzling sci-fi adventure series that takes a 50-year-old franchise and modernizes it for a 21st-century audience. Creators Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Gods of Egypt) strip away most of the campiness of yesteryear and replace it with some grit and ambiguity. Unlike the 1960s version, where the Robinsons resembled the ideal nuclear “aw shucks” family, this iteration makes them feel like actual people with real problems, who are battling not only the harsh conditions of the planet their spaceship crashes on, but also their inner-family turmoil.
The story begins 30 years from now, shortly after a geological-altering event forces humanity to search the stars for new planets to colonize. After encountering a rip in spacetime during their journey, the Robison’s ship The Jupiter 2 is separated from its mothership (The Resolute), causing the spacecraft to rapidly descend to an uncharted planet. This is where we are introduced to the Robinsons — John (Toby Stephens), Maureen (Molly Parker), Judy (Taylor Russell), Penny (Mina Sundwall), and Will (Max Jenkins).
Opening the episode with the Robinsons’ spacefaring woes is a great way to introduce the characters, due to the suspenseful nature of the situation. Shortly after the crash, one of the kids is in a life-threatening predicament, forcing the Robinsons to work together, which is not always their strong suit. Watching them awkwardly struggle to cooperate is unsettling, like there’s some baggage they should have worked out before they left Earth. Thankfully, the writers effectively contextualize their conflicts through the use of flashbacks.
The brief glimpses into the past provide important information regarding “the event” that transformed Earth, as well as a look into the Robinson family’s complicated dynamic before they decided to join the Jupiter mission. There is a scene early on where Maureen and Penny are out doing some mother-daughter shopping, and if you look closely at the television in the background, you will find clues about what happened to Earth. The writers don’t spoon-feed the viewer with all of the information at once, providing just enough context to leave you with that “I want more” feeling when the credits roll. Good choice on their part since Netflix lets you stream all 10 episodes at once.
Lost in Space is further bolstered by its talented young cast. While Stephens and Parker deliver solid performances as mama and papa Robinson, it’s the kids that really shine here, giving their characters unique personalities all their own. Russell’s portrayal of Judy, the eldest sibling, is remarkable. She goes through a traumatic experience that showcases her capacity to exhibit a wide-range of emotions. Russell’s ability to look calm and fearless one moment and suddenly break down crying seconds later is a testament to the young actress’ skills.
Jenkins as Will Robinson is destined to be a crowd favorite. He’s smart and inquisitive, but also fragile and scared most of the time. Jenkins actually makes Will seem like a kid instead of a little person with grown-up sensibilities. His relationship with his dad should be an intriguing plot point as the season progresses since John tries to manage Will like he would a soldier instead of his son. And for you long-time fans out there, yes, the “danger Will Robinson” robot is back, but not in the way you might expect. To avoid going into spoilers, let’s save that conversation for another day, but it’s a great update on a familiar concept.
The one time Lost in Space reverts back to the campiness of the 1960s is when the infamous Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) is introduced. It’s a small gripe and certainly one that doesn’t ruin the episode, but the way the camera slowly zooms in on Posey, mixed with the ominous music and her sinister facial expression screamed of a villainous approach that’s been done numerous times before. The only thing missing was a malevolent laugh to top it all off. Hopefully, Smith will prove to be a more complex character down the road.